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The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

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In 1995, Jean-Dominique Bauby was the editor-in-chief of French Elle, the father of two young childen, a 44-year-old man known and loved for his wit, his style, and his impassioned approach to life. By the end of the year he was also the victim of a rare kind of stroke to the brainstem. After 20 days in a coma, Bauby awoke into a body which had all but stopped working: only his left eye functioned, allowing him to see and, by blinking it, to make clear that his mind was unimpaired. Almost miraculously, he was soon able to express himself in the richest detail: dictating a word at a time, blinking to select each letter as the alphabet was recited to him slowly, over and over again. In the same way, he was able eventually to compose this extraordinary book.By turns wistful, mischievous, angry, and witty, Bauby bears witness to his determination to live as fully in his mind as he had been able to do in his body. He explains the joy, and deep sadness, of seeing his children and of hearing his aged father's voice on the phone. In magical sequences, he imagines traveling to other places and times and of lying next to the woman he loves. Fed only intravenously, he imagines preparing and tasting the full flavor of delectable dishes. Again and again he returns to an "inexhaustible reservoir of sensations, " keeping in touch with himself and the life around him.Jean-Dominique Bauby died two days after the French publication of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. This book is a lasting testament to his life.
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About the Author

Jean-Dominique Bauby was born in France in 1952. He attended school in Paris. After working as a journalist for a number of years, Bauby became the editor-in-chief of Elle magazine in Paris in 1991. On December 8, 1995 he had a stroke which left him with the condition known as locked-in syndrome. Bauby died on March 9, 1997. He was the father of two children, Theophile and Celeste. From the Hardcover edition.


Two days after this remarkable book was published in France to great acclaim, its author died of heart failure. What caused such a stir was the method Bauby used to write it. For in December 1995, the 44-year-old former editor-in-chief of the French Elle magazine had suffered a severe stroke that left his body paralyzed but his mind intact, a condition known as "locked-in syndrome." Able to communicate only by blinking his left eyelid, he dictated this book letter by letter to an assistant who recited to him a special alphabet. The result is a marvelous, compelling account of Bauby's life as a "vegetable," full of humor and devoid of self-pity. Although he was trapped in the diving bell of his body, Bauby's imagination "takes flight like a butterflyy....You can wander off in space or in time, set out for Tierra del Fuego or for King Midas's court." His celebration of life against all odds is highly recommended. [Julia Tavalro, who suffers from the same condition, has also written an excellent account, Look Up for Yes, LJ 2/1/97.‘Ed.]‘Wilda Williams, "Library Journal"

In 1995 Bauby, the 45-year-old editor of French Elle, suffered a stroke that left him paralyzed in all but his left eyelid. Out of this waking nightmare (what the medical community calls "locked-in syndrome") he managed to dictate‘letter by letter, in a semaphore of winks‘this memoir of his "life in a jar." He died two days after the book's French publication. Bauby's essays are remarkable simply because they exist, and he earns admiration for having endured, with surprising grace and good humor, what is perhaps the worst imaginable fate. This said, the real poignancy of these pieces is their ordinariness. No deathbed philosopher, Bauby avoids the depths of despair and prefers to view his hospital ward with the sardonic cheerfulness and smiling regrets of an homme moyen sensuel as he remembers meals, baths, work, conversations‘the pleasures taken from him. There are moments of extraordinary sadness and beauty‘when, for instance, Bauby dreams at dawn that he can visit his girlfriend, "slide down beside her and stroke her still-sleeping face" or wishes, during a visit from his nine-year-old son, "to ruffle his bristly hair, clasp his downy neck, hug his small, lithe, warm body tight against me." But Bauby's observations, like his prose, stick to the predictable: the everyday is his sustenance. What is most surprising, in the end, is how little he gave in to the loneliness of his "diving bell," how completely he relied on the butterfly of dreams and memory. That is the triumph of his final words. 100,000 first printing. (May)

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