34. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby (1997)
Length: 132 pages
Started: 20 May 2015
Finished: 22 May 2015
Where did it come from? This book was a birthday gift given to my husband by someone who was a frequent visitor to the restaurant.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 7 November 1999
Why do I have it? I like non-fiction and Jean-Dominique Bauby is a new author for me.
In 1995, Jean-Dominique Bauby was living a relatively successful life. He was forty-three-years-old; a doting father to two young children with a rewarding career. As the editor-in-chief for the French magazine, Elle, he was a man who was highly regarded by his colleagues. He was someone who was deeply loved and held in the highest esteem for his sharp wit, his indomitable sense of style, and his impassioned approach to life.
However, by the end of the year in 1995, Jean-Dominique had suffered a major health crisis that effectively knocked his world off its axis. He became the victim of an extremely rare kind of stroke to the brain stem. After twenty days spent in a coma, Jean-Dominique eventually awoke inside of a body that had essentially stopped working: only his left eye functioned properly, allowing him to see, and, by blinking, to clearly impart to others that his mind remained unimpaired. Almost miraculously, he was soon able to communicate with others; relearning the ability to express himself in the richest detail, using a unique form of the alphabet.
It was by blinking to select letters one by one as this special alphabet was slowly recited to him, over and over again, that Jean-Dominique learned to communicate again with those around him. In the same unique way, he was eventually able to compose this extraordinary book. Again and again he returns to an “inexhaustible reservoir of sensations,” thus managing to keep in touch with himself and the life around him.
At times wistful, mischievous, angry and witty, Jean-Dominique bears witness to his inherent determination to live life as fully within his mind as he had once been able to in his body. He explains the joy, and the deep sadness, he feels at seeing his children; at hearing his aged father’s voice on the phone. In magical sequences, he imagines traveling to other places and times; of lying next to the woman he loves. Fed only intravenously, he imagines preparing and tasting the full flavor of delectable dishes.
Jean-Dominique Bauby died two days after the French publication of his book. Yet The Diving Bell and the Butterfly remains as a poignant testimony to a lifetime well-lived – a lasting testament to life itself. Already being greeted with extraordinary acclaim – this is the astonishing, profoundly moving memoir of a man afflicted by locked-in syndrome, a state of almost total paralysis that leaves the victim, in the author’s own words, “like a mind in a jar.”
Given the serious topic of this book, Mr. Bauby writes his story without a hint of self-indulgence. I was expecting that there might be a certain amount of bitterness, anger, or depression for his situation that Mr. Bauby was feeling – a sense of sorrow for the way his life turned out. Instead, I found it to be a remarkably poignant and courageous memoir, still surprisingly hopeful even in the face of such a devastating illness.
While Mr. Bauby had such incredible difficulty in creating this book, not an ounce of that struggle to communicate is found in his writing. There was an easiness to his writing style that I really appreciated. I give this book an A!
Till we Meet Again, Glow Brightly as Moonlight