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The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: A Memoir of Life in Death
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The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: A Memoir of Life in Death

4.0 of 5 stars 4.00  ·  rating details  ·  30,670 ratings  ·  2,863 reviews
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: onl...more
Paperback, 132 pages
Published June 23rd 1998 by Vintage Books USA (first published January 1st 1997)
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Petra Xtra Crunchy
Words flow like the images and emotions of poetry. One thought leads to another. The rambling mind touches like a butterfly, just long enough to draw the essence from a story, and then moves fluidly to another. Jean-Dominique Bauby's body was an immobile weighty shell; the diving bell his perfect simile. Yet in his head he roved the world and composed the words that would let us in. Intent on looking for the cure to let him move again, he moves forward in his final words "We must keep looking. I...more
Gregory Baird
“Does it take the harsh light of disaster to show a person’s true nature?”

The situation is unimaginable: waking from a coma to find yourself trapped in your own body, able to think clearly and understand what is going on around you, but unable to partake in any of what transpires. It’s called “locked in syndrome,” and Jean-Dominique Bauby finds himself a victim of it when he awakes from a coma following a serious stroke that damaged his brain stem and left him almost totally paralyzed; he has...more
Will Byrnes
Jean-Dominique Baube, the forty-something editor of Elle magazine in Paris, husband, father, was stricken by a rare brain disease. After several weeks in a coma he awoke to find that he was a prisoner inside his own body, with control over only his left eye, and motion limited to twisting his head left and right, somewhat. Yet this man managed, with help, to not only maintain his sanity and his optimism, but his appreciation of beauty and his sense of humor. This is a case in which imagination i...more
Craig
I know I will likely get flayed alive for rating this one so low, but I just can't see the worship behind it...

First, let me say that the "writing" of the book by someone in such a state is an amazing accomplishment and I dare not take that away from him. (For those that don't know, it was dictated by Jean-Dominique Bauby - former editor of the french Elle - who had a severe seizure and after damage to his brain stem, was diagnosed with locked in syndrome. The entire book was dictated, letter by...more
Yulia
I just saw the movie adaptation last Friday, the day before my father-in-law passed away: perhaps not the best time, but I'm the type of person who refuses to get myself out of my mood, but prefers to dwell on my feelings. I actually found the movie much darker than the book itself, which I read when it first came out in English. As the book's from his perspective, we are spared the experience of the silence and loneliness he is encased in. The movie, in contrast, depicts just how terrifying and...more
Shovelmonkey1
Feb 06, 2012 Shovelmonkey1 rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who thinks they might be in danger of taking life for granted
Recommended to Shovelmonkey1 by: Jon
When I first heard about it I did not think it would be the sort of thing I would be interested in reading and definately not the sort of thing I would be interested in watching (having heard it had recently been turned into a film). One of my best friends, a man who is a great deal more sensitive and open minded than I could ever hope to be asked me if i'd read it. "A book about a man who wrote the book by blinking one eyelid?" I asked. "But I like the Die Hard Quadrology, 300 and Wilbur Smith...more
Alistair
Mar 10, 2008 Alistair rated it 1 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Richard and Judy viewers
this is quite an achievement .
the writer a quadraplegic with locked in syndrome who died shortly after the publication of this book mangages to make himself into a totally unsympathetic character .
i really disliked this book i suppose because it has gained such an good reputation . this is mis-lit at its worst .
the author is completely self obsessed perhaps unsurprisingly and the profundity is not much above that found in a Hallmark card . it seems that the things the author misses most are his...more
Laurel
This is one of those books where the story behind the story was more interesting to me than the book itself. For those who don't know, Jean-Dominique Bauby (the former editor-in-chief of French Elle, had a stroke in his mid 40's that left him with a body entirely paralyzed but a mind fully intact. This is referred to as locked-in syndrome, a condition that, in the author's words, is "like a mind in a jar."

The one part of his body that Bauby could move was his left eyelid. Remarkably, he was able...more
Aberjhani
A Small Book with a Big Soul

Jean-Dominique Bauby's "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" is a small book composed of many big wonders. Primary among this book's extraordinary qualities is the fact that Bauby, a former editor in chief of the world-famous French Elle, was able to "write" it at all. after suffering a stroke to his brain stem and spending 20 days in a coma, Bauby regained command of a nearly clairvoyant intellect but lost all authority over his body. The sole physical function he ret...more
David
Before reading it, I wasn't aware this book was originally in French. It has a simple lyricism even in translation, which makes me want to read the original. It's the kind of book that can be read very quickly, but probably shouldn't be. Rather, one should savor the well-mixed hope and sadness.
Laysee
Would you write a memoir if all that was left of your ability to communicate with the world was a nod or a wink? Jean-Dominique Bauby did. Letter by letter, the Editor-in-Chief of French Elle, dictated his life story despite being totally incapacitated by “locked in syndrome” following a stroke. The diving bell and the butterfly are powerful metaphors that bespeak the triumph of the human mind over physical disability of the highest order.

This is one of the most moving books I’ve read this year...more
Kirstine
I read it in an afternoon and it is, in one word, beautiful.

This book was, for me, about the simple things we often overlook, mostly because we're too busy and don't take the time to actually look, but also because seeing takes a particular state of mind, it requires an openness, that is not always easy to come by.

Jean-Dominique definitely had the time to observe the world, and the immensity of the strength, courage and determination it took to put a fraction of those things onto paper is enou...more
Peter
Jan 30, 2009 Peter added it
The power of this short memoir is that it exists.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is a collection of short reflections and anecdotes by Jean-Dominique Bauby, the once-editor of the French Elle who at age forty-three suffered a massive stroke that left him completely paralyzed, unable to move or communicate save by blinking his left eye.

Knowing this, every page of prose is a modern miracle. It helps that the prose is really good.

The experience of reading this, then, becomes a source of great cog...more
Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
Feb 17, 2009 Jeanette "Astute Crabbist" rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Jeanette by: Elisabeth
This is a series of vignettes composed and painstakingly dictated by a man with "locked-in" syndrome. He could only communicate with eye blinks, but had a very fertile and sharp mind. He shares what it's like to live with his condition, as well as stories from his life before the stroke that stole his freedom. There is sadness, of course, and a certain amount of "why me?", but it's never maudlin, and he managed to keep his sense of humor. Very short and worth reading.
Be grateful for the small t...more
Marilyn
Apr 01, 2008 Marilyn rated it 1 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: People who are locked in
Recommended to Marilyn by: Marina
This book, although it provides the first ever look inside the head of a person with "locked-in" syndrome, was not the evocative masterpiece I'd hoped it would be. Although the author's situation (how one manages to write a novel while paralyzed) and the whole premise of the book are fascinating, the book is no better than ordinary. I haven't yet seen the movie, but I'm sure it made a much better film than it did a book, as one can use the camera, actors' expressions and music to make you feel t...more
Zaki
What a load of bollocks!
Peter Heinrich
The wide margins and short chapters of this thin volume are important physical features Bauby's memoir. They're a constant reminder that every word, every letter came at a very high cost. It's impossible to forget, if a passage seems short, that it had to be dictated one letter at a time, using an amazingly laborious process called partner-assisted scanning—an interlocutor recites the alphabet until the "speaker" indicates the correct letter has been reached, at which point the letter is copied...more
Christina Ramos
I'm just as compassionate as the next person, and while my heart goes out to Bauby and his family for the tragic circumstances that left him paralyzed from the neck down, only able to communicate by blinking his left eye, I still hated this book. It is an admirable feat to dictate an entire book (though very short - I was able to to start it while eating my breakfast and finish it right before walking into work on the same morning), it still lacks substance. The author is successful at conveying...more
Colin McKay Miller
Many authors say they agonize over each word they write, but in dictating The Diving Bell and the Butterfly to an assistant with nothing but his left eye and her willingness to repeat a frequency-ordered alphabet until he blinked at the correct letter—a process that took, on average, two minutes per word, culminating in four hours a day for a total writing period of ten months, with no room to edit after it left his head—I’d say journalist Jean-Dominique Bauby has them beat.

Up until December 6th...more
Allison
Nov 15, 2008 Allison rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Shelves: non-fic
When I had originally heard of this book, I had no desire to read it. It seemed like it would be very depressing and somber. My voice teacher was giving away a lot of her books and passed this along to me, and, feeling lost and in need of a 'wake up call' I started reading it immediately. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is the opposite of somber and depressing; it is hopeful, warm, and appreciative. Though parts of it are terribly sad, Jean Dominique Bauby writes about things that he looks for...more
Debbie "DJ" Wilson
I had forgotten I read this some time ago, but it still sticks with me today. I also saw the movie, which I thought stayed true to the book, but also added visuals which really brought this story alive. Interesting choice of words...alive. I don't know if I would want to be alive in this state. This was a very unique look at a disease called "locked-in-syndrome.
Erica
This book absolutely depressed me. Here is a man robbed of everything and is kept alive even when he wants to die. He can communicate with the blink of an eye and the shake of his head and that's about it. And because he can't bear the thought of how boring and embarrassing a life inside the hospital walls are, he makes up stories in his head and imagines things to make life more interesting. Sometimes during this book I actually couldn't tell what was real and what was imagined and even feel th...more
Norman
These memoirs reveal glimpses of a man who thoroughly enjoyed the "'good things" in life, but who seems to have longed to enjoy it at a deeper level. For, although these vignettes recollect many warm experiences with lovers, family and friends, there also an unhidden wistfulness concerning his lack of taking on the more serious pursuits that he --perhaps-- desired most. However, in accomplishing this book in the physically destroyed state he was in, he ultimately did pursue that deeper subject m...more
Michelle
Rather than give a plot synopsis, I want to quote one of my favorite passages from this too-slim, but very moving memoir. In all honesty, any adjectives I could give it would not do it justice.

I particularly enjoy when Bauby describes feeling like cheerfully killing the hospital staff. Oh, how many times in life could I have cheerfully killed someone? Certainly more than once.

"At first some of the staff had terrified me. I saw them only as my jailers, as accomplices in some awful plot. Later I h...more
La Petite Américaine
Jul 20, 2008 La Petite Américaine rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: The Strong in Heart and Mind
Recommended to La Petite Américaine by: Bday gift from the boyfriend
Bauby was the editor of the French Elle magazine, but then he suffered a massive stroke that left him paralyzed and speechless except for the ability to blink his left eye. He dictated this book by blinking his eye.

I found this book remarkably moving and sad. While I read the author's emotional accounts of his life, and how it feels to simply be a body trapped in a mind, I kept getting distracted and was unable to concentrate ... why had they saved him? Why not let him die? This poor bastard is...more
Ben Loory
5 stars to the guy who lived it
Gary Foss
The most profound aspect of this book wasn't written by Jean-Dominique Bauby. It's in the "About the Author" introduction that precedes the Prologue:
The editor-in-chief of French Elle, Jean-Dominique Bauby suffered a stroke that resulted in locked-in syndrome when he was 43 years old. He died just two days after the French publication of his book.
It's impossible to read this text without the reality of that hanging over every word. The effort of writing a book, blinked out one letter at a time t...more
Yolanda
I'm currently reading this now and it's very good. I plan to see the film shortly after I finish. It is really well written which is unexpected since the author could only communicate with one eye.
Now that I've finished the book, the most fascinating part of it is that the author accomplished something that I would imagine is impossible. The content forces me to reflect more, on the idea that fate plays a big part in our lives. Moments that we take for granted can take a turn which leads us to i...more
Annalisa
Jul 07, 2008 Annalisa rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Annalisa by: Ryan
Halfway through this movie about a man who has a stroke and is left completely paralyzed but with a fully functioning mind (locked-in syndrome) able to communicate only by blinking his left eye, I found myself at the library. His alphabet--ordered by frequency of letters in the French language--running through my head (ESA... ESARINTULOM... ESARINTULO... ESARINTU... ESAR) I see the book on display. How could I not check it out? I wanted to know what a man would have to say who lies in a hospital...more
Melody
Dec 04, 2013 Melody rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Melody by: Sara Jones
I should have been able to read this book in just a few hours. Not only is it a very slim book – but the chapters are nice and short and there are even a few blank – or near blank pages. But I could only read Jean-Do’s words for so long before I would have to put the book down and blink both my eyes or straighten my sock or stretch my neck or scratch my nose. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is the memoir of the former editor of Elle magazine after he has suffered a massive stroke that has left...more
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Movie First...Then read the Book 5 76 Jul 03, 2014 08:23PM  
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The Diving Bell and the Butterfly 10 127 Jun 28, 2014 03:08PM  
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Circle of Books: First or last resort 1 1 Jul 03, 2012 09:27AM  
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Jean-Dominique Bauby was a well-known French journalist and author and editor of the French fashion magazine, ELLE.
On December 8, 1995 at the age of 43, Bauby suffered a massive stroke. When he woke up twenty days later, he found he was entirely speechless; he could only blink his left eyelid. This rare condition is called Locked-in Syndrome, a condition wherein the mental faculties are intact but...more
More about Jean-Dominique Bauby...
A Life in Medicine: A Literary Anthology

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“I need to feel strongly, to love and admire, just as desperately as I need to breathe.” 61 likes
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