Saturday, January 17, 2009

"The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly" Jean-Dominique Bauby

The critical praise for this book says it all:

"Read this book and fall back in love with life" Edmund White
"Everyone in the country should own at least one copy" Guardian
"The most extraordinary book of the year" Daily Telegraph
"One of the great books of the century" Financial Times

This remarkable book follows the journey of Jean-Dominique Bauby, who wakes up after having a stroke and finds that while his mind is fully intact, his body is almost completely paralyzed, a rare phenomenon called "locked-in syndrome". Bauby has become a prisoner of his own body, and while he can look at his children and feel the wind in his hair and smell the fresh air, he has lost so many things central to being human. He can no longer speak, or hold his children, or eat a meal (he's fed through a tube as he's unable to swallow). Instead of becoming depressed about his condition, he wrote this remarkable book using a system devised by his speech-therapist which allows him to dictate letters by using his left eyelid, one of the only parts of this body that is not paralyzed.

Dictating the entire book to someone sent by his publishing company, letter by letter, Bauby tells us about how it feels to be locked into himself. He tells us his fantasies about food, what he does to pass the time, and the TV shows he enjoys watching. He tells us his nicknames for the various workers in the hospital, nicknames that he will never be able to vocalize. He tells us of the books that he wishes he had read, the things that he wishes he had said and done while he had the chance. Instead of being depressing, this book celebrates life and all that it consists of. It will make the average person, such as myself, thankful for the times when my children are cranky and I am able to pick them up and hold them, or the times when the food at a restaurant takes an hour to come, but I am able to pick up a fork and savour the food. It really is a triumph of human life.

Bauby died in 1997, but this book will live on as one of his legacies. Truly remarkable. More information on this book is available here, and you can pre-order Harper-Collins' 25th anniversary edition here.

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