Review: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby

193755In 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. (From: Goodreads)

***Actual rating: 5/5 Forever-Shining Stars***

This book involves 28 short stories, or you can say, pieces of memory from the former editor of French Elle magazine, Jean-Dominique Bauby, who was permanently paralyzed after a severe stroke. His only way of communication was by blinking his left eye and that was how he patiently spelled this book out. As he put it, and I firmly believed in him, that his main task was to “compose the first of these bedridden travel notes so that I shall be ready when my publisher’s emissary arrives to take my dictation, letter by letter. In my head I churn over every sentence ten times, delete a word, add an adjective, and learn my text by heart, paragraph by paragraph.”

There was no particular order for the topics in this book, nor was there any certain connection among them. What made it precious for me is how detailed Jean-Dominique depicted of what he saw, what he heard(despite his serious hearing disorder), and most important of all, what he felt. He was suddenly forced to embrace his “new life” after the misfortune, but it’s rather impressive that he didn’t think so sometimes.

Although I could feel the helplessness in his voice and the eagerness of freedom when he was comfined to an unfamiliar wheelchair–just like a diving bell waiting to be opened up–there were times he really enjoyed himself in spite of his disability. In a nutshell, he chose to be a carefree butterfly, making his spirit live on forever without burden and pain. What’s more, this book/his words made me realize how blissful I am because I can live out loud, do whatever I want, go wherever I desire, talk and hang out with friends/family whenever we’re available…etc. Therefore, he kind of reminded us to know and cherish such blessing since we never know how precious it is until we lose it.

Lastly, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is definitely a must-read in life and I highly recommend it to everyone. The original version is in French, Le Scaphandre et le Papillon, and I found the translation one captured his meanings pretty well. By the way, I can’t put an end to this review without quoting something worth valuing, so here it is:

“Capturing the moment, these small slices of life, these small gusts of happiness, move me more deeply than all the rest.”


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