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The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby
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's review
Jan 30, 2009

Read in December, 2008

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 cognitive dissonance: how could such keen and lively writing come from such immobility? It is an example of a marvelous separation—or independence—of body and mind.

This dissonance little resolves, however. The story’s ultimate tragedy looms on every page—in Bauby’s tone, in his fluctuation between thankfulness, hope and dread, and in the reactions of Bauby’s friends when they come to visit. Somehow, it seems the miracle can’t last, and that leaves us marveling at its existence even more.

Do I recommend it? Yes, this is a short, exceptional read.
Would I teach it? Maybe. Bauby is wonderful with images.
Lasting impression: That Bauby “wrote” this is a testament to the capaciousness of the mind, and it is yet another reminder that personal appearance is never a true reflection of the life of the mind.
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