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

Jean-Dominique Bauby, Author, Jeremy Leggatt, Translator Knopf Publishing Group $20 (131p) ISBN 978-0-375-40115-2
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)
Reviewed on: 12/30/1996
Release date: 01/01/1997
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Analog Audio Cassette - 978-0-679-46084-8
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