Thursday, April 28, 2016

Reading Challenge Book 16: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly


I purchased this book on my Kindle back on August 25, 2013. I know this because Amazon tells me so when I visit it on their site. It was assigned to me during my capstone English course at University of Wyoming yet, like so many school assignments, I didn't give it the effort and attention it deserved. It was definitely a book I have been eager to revisit.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Jean-Dominique Bauby

First off, I have to state, for the record, that locked-in syndrome sounds utterly terrifying. Having a fully-functional mind trapped in a nonfunctional body would be pretty awful. There is so much in my life that would either cease to be or, more likely, become a painful hole in my new, Hellish existence.

It is remarkable, then, that Bauby's text is far less torturous than one might expect, given his circumstances. He writes about the life he lost, the simple things he can no longer do, and the struggles of locked-in syndrome without summoning the reader to a pity-party held in his honor. At times he even adds a touch of comedy to his woes. In this respect, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is truly beautiful.

In fact, Bauby doesn't disclose the full details of how he came to be in this situation until the very end of the memoir. When he does, there is none of the "woe is me" to which he is sorely entitled; rather, he recalls what he can from that last night before his world changed forever. The details that stuck with Bauby are slice-of-life things that we experience every day, yet rarely give a second thought to. And even when he is rushed to the hospital, his thoughts are on things that were important to him before the stroke began, not on the horrible transformation he was undergoing.

For those of you who don't know, Bauby only really had control of his left eye once he was locked-in. He dictated this entire book to a writer who would read him the alphabet letter by letter (rearranged based on their frequency in French), and he would blink when the right letter came up. Letter by letter, word by word, until all 146 pages were completed. Bauby passed away only days after this book was published.


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