book review, nonfiction

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly By Jean-Dominique Bauby

A fascinating, beautifully written book made all the more incredible when you learn that it was dictated one eye blink at a time.

43 year old Jean-Dominique Bauby was at the top of his game living in Paris, working as editor of French Elle magazine, and father of two children. His life changed drastically when out of the blue a stroke left him completely paralyzed save for his left eyelid. Locked within his heavy, unwieldy diving bell of a body, his mind continued to flit as free as a butterfly from one thought to another.

Accurately diagnosed with ‘locked-in’ syndrome, Bauby was able to communicate through blinking his left eyelid and dictated this slim volume as his final work.

What can I saw about this amazing memoir? I think everyone should read it. Bauby discusses his life, recounts memories of his father, shares his fantasies and frankly details the hardships of relying upon others for every single aspect of his life.

This book is a reminder of how fragile life is for all of us that it can change so drastically in a moment. Bauby illustrates so well how differently people treat him when they encounter him after his stroke. How vulnerable he is without even a voice to defend himself. It is an important reminder to be considerate to others, even if they don’t appear to appreciate us.

Perhaps the most powerful message of this book is that we must not judge a book by its cover.

I cared for my mother for five years when she could do little for herself. Unable to walk, the mobility of her hands severely limited and her mental faculties diminished by dementia, she was as dependent on others as a young child. Unfortunately I witnessed first hand how many times she was treated as a non human by those tasked with looking after her. While we were blessed with one very capable and caring professional carer who helped with her day to day management, many would perform the most intimate tasks without explaining to her what they were about to do, move her around like a piece of meat and ignore her ability to communicate.

Unfortunately, in our society there is a lot of pressure that those who can’t make a living are worthless. That a life lived in pain is not worth living. That illness or disability is something disgusting and shameful.

Perhaps it is a sad reflection of life that this beautifully written memoir is most impactful in that it shows how rich one man’s internal life remains despite the most challenging of hardships, and that life and humanity remains within a shell that many would call a vegetable.

I award The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is available for $4.34 ebook and $6.66 print book on Amazon.

9 thoughts on “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly By Jean-Dominique Bauby”

  1. It’s a fantastic book. I was extremely impressed by the fact that not only did he dictate the book with his eyelid, but he also dictated beautiful prose. It’s a powerful book because he was completely paralysed (other than his left eyelid) and his soul soared, and so strongly showed the value of life, when so many would dismiss his as being of no value at all. Everyone should read this book.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wonderful review, it certainly sounds like a powerful book, which I have to look into. I agree so much with your message about being vulnerable and also to look behind the surface and treat everyone with respect and compassion. That is definitely something we as a society often fail at.

    Liked by 1 person

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