Book Review: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, by Jean-Dominique Bauby – Julia Webb-HarveyW rapped up in several sweaters against the chill of a wintry day in Paris, Florence Ben Sadoun sits in a bohemian tea shop near the Luxembourg Gardens. In front of her is a pot of strong coffee and several notebooks scrawled with her work. I can work here, peacefully. Abruptly the peace is broken when a teenage band begins to warm up, attempting - badly - to play scratchy French folk music. Ben Sadoun, who has an open face, with dark eyes, covers her ears, cringes, apologises for the noise, and sinks back into the cushions, wrapping a shawl around herself. She looks smaller than she really is, and vulnerable.
The reality behind The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
In , Jean-Dominique Bauby was the editor-in-chief of French Elle, the father of two young childen, a 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 book. The Butterfly is his mind that flutters about his past and his present, something that he delights in occupying, despite the betrayal of his body. The two states meet in the pages of this extraordinary book.
In December , Jean-Dominique Bauby, editor-in-chief of French `Elle' and the father of two young children, suffered a massive stroke and found himself paralysed and speechless, but entirely conscious, trapped by what doctors call `locked-in syndrome'.
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In my case, blinking my left eyelid is my only means of communication. Using his only functioning muscle - his left eyelid - he began dictating this remarkable story, painstakingly spelling it out letter by letter. His book offers a haunting, harrowing look inside the cruel prison of locked-in syndrome, but it is also a triumph of the human spirit. It represents an almost inconceivable act of generosity, the gift of the mind and the spirit for which writing was designed. One of the most extraordinary, mesmerising pieces of literature I have read this year. No word has been wasted in this masterpiece.
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