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The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: A Memoir of Life in Death    by Jean-Dominique Bauby order for
Diving Bell and the Butterfly
by Jean-Dominique Bauby
Order:  USA  Can
Vintage, 2007 (1998)

Read an Excerpt

* * *   Reviewed by Lori Waddington

In 1995, Jean-Dominique Bauby, the editor of the French ELLE, suffered a massive stroke. It left him completely paralyzed in all areas except one; he was able to blink his left eye, and Bauby managed to use this as a means of communication. 'It is a simple enough system. You read off the alphabet ... until, with a blink of my eye, I stop you at the letter to be noted. This maneuver is repeated for the letters that follow, so that fairly soon you have a whole word, and then fragments of more or less intelligible sentences.' By doing this, Bauby was able to have someone chronicle the last year of his life; The Diving Bell And The Butterfly is his story.

Bauby explains what it is like to not be able to move - 'something like a giant invisible diving bell holds my whole body prisoner' - while 'my mind takes flight like a butterfly.' While lying in his bed in 'Room 119 of the Naval Hospital at Berck-sur-mer, on the French Channel coast,' Bauby explains how he keeps his mind active. 'There is so much to do. You can build castles in Spain, steal the Golden Fleece, discover Atlantis, realize your childhood dreams and adult ambitions.' And even while Bauby is fed through a tube, he remembers tastes and smells ranging from 'a simple soft-boiled egg with fingers of toast' or a dozen snails with 'a plate of Alsatian sausage.'

Even though Bauby inevitably indulges in moments of self-pity, they are few and far between. When he does, it is almost always with a touch of humor. As Bauby explains that he prefers to wear his old clothes instead of 'the hideous jogging suit provided by the hospital,' he adds that 'If I must drool, I may as well drool on cashmere.' When it comes to memoirs, I strongly recommend adding this one to your list. The simple fact that The Diving Bell And The Butterfly was ever written is truly amazing.

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