Review: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby
Warnings: Mature themes
Summary: In 1995, Jean-Dominique Bauby was the editor-in-chief of French Elle, the father of two young childen, a 44-year-old man known and loved for his wit, his style, and his impassioned approach to life. By the end of the year he was also the victim of a rare kind of stroke to the brainstem. After 20 days in a coma, Bauby awoke into a body which had all but stopped working: only his left eye functioned, allowing him to see and, by blinking it, to make clear that his mind was unimpaired. Almost miraculously, he was soon able to express himself in the richest detail: dictating a word at a time, blinking to select each letter as the alphabet was recited to him slowly, over and over again. In the same way, he was able eventually to compose this extraordinary book.
By turns wistful, mischievous, angry, and witty, Bauby bears witness to his determination to live as fully in his mind as he had been able to do in his body. He explains the joy, and deep sadness, of seeing his children and of hearing his aged father's voice on the phone. In magical sequences, he imagines traveling to other places and times and of lying next to the woman he loves. Fed only intravenously, he imagines preparing and tasting the full flavor of delectable dishes. Again and again he returns to an "inexhaustible reservoir of sensations," keeping in touch with himself and the life around him.
Jean-Dominique Bauby died two days after the French publication of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.
This book is a lasting testament to his life
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is not what I normally read. This is an autobiography by a former Editor in Chief of French Elle, writing about his life after he lost function of almost his entire body. Even though this man was incapable of writing, he managed to communicate a message that stays with you long after you finish the book. In it, he writes about his family and his life at the hospital, and reminisces about the days in which he could be out in the world instead of being confined to the chair he was in. It’s quite an emotional book. He is clearly very frustrated by his situation, and it gives the reader some insight into the struggles of a man who’s trapped inside his own body. Through it all, Bauby’s witty and poignant narrative touches all who read it, and I would recommend it to everyone.
I gave this book 4/5 stars on goodreads.