Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Poignant and powerful, Jean-Dominique Bauby's memoir of the last months of his life make The Diving Bell and The Butterfly a recommended read for mature young adults. In his mid-40's, Bauby suffered a severe stroke to his brain stem leaving him a paraplegic able only to communicate his thoughts, fantasies, desires, or memories by blinking his left eyelid. Written by this former editor of Elle, Bauby's book is a testimony to the power of the written word. In 130 short pages, the reader is invited into a world that we would choose not to experience: a world defined by a respirator (the diving bell), a wheel chair, and helplessness. But from within this powerless condition, Bauby records fond memories of his children, his loves, and even his favorite foods.

Bauby spent a summer working with a young woman who painstakingly read his eyelid blinks by going through the frequency order of the French alphabet. At the end of the summer he dictated the following closing paragraph: "Does the cosmos contain keys for opening up my diving bell? A subway line with no terminus? A currency strong enough to buy my freedom back? We must keep looking. I'll be off now."

He died two days after the French publication of this book.

(Alfred A. Knopf, 1997)

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