Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Must Read: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

I just finished reading the most amazing book. If you look back on my book reviews, there are alot of books that I say I like, but I rarely state that it's a must read. "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" is a must read. If you aren't a reader, then watch the movie. If you read the book, you should also watch the movie. It's one of those rare times where the producers of the movie actually got it so right, it actually enhances your appreciation for the book.

"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" is a memoir by Jean-Dominique Bauby. In December 1995, Bauby was at the peak of his career. He was editor of the French edition of Elle magazine. He had planned to take his young son to a play in Paris. While in the car with his son, Bauby has a massive stroke which resulted in a condition known as "locked-in syndrome."

What does this mean? Bauby is paralyzed from head to toe, but his mind is 100% in tact. His only means of communicating is by blinking his eye. Bauby works with a speech therapist who has come up with a strategy for communication. After much research, the speech therapy field has figured out which letters are used most frequently. In order to communicate, the speech therapist reads through these letters (E S A R ...) - Bauby blinks when he hears the letter he wants to use. Blink by blink, Bauby spells out words, sentence, paragraphs, and eventually this book - letter by letter. Can you even imagine? And can you imagine the patience of the person that Bauby dictated the book to? It's no surprise that Bauby recognizes her on the dedication page of the book.

The title of the book represents the ups and down that Bauby experiences. A diving bell is a heavy chamber that is used for deep water diving. If you are curious, you can read a description and see a picture of one here. The diving bell represents the days when Bauby is weighed down by the diagnosis. He has much time for self reflection so looks back over his life and how he could have done things differently.

His escape from this diagnosis lies in his ability to mentally travel to another place. A lighter place. A happier place. Here is an excerpt that exhibits Bauby's butterfly-like thoughts:

"My mind takes flight like a butterfly. There is so much to do. You can wander off in space or in time, set out for Tierra del Fuego or for King Midas's court. You can visit the woman you love, slide down beside her and stroke her still-sleeping face..."

I'll leave you with that. It is so beautifully written. And, not surprisingly, it is very short.

Read it. Or watch the movie. And let me know what you think.


Jess said...

You always review books that I keep telling myself I have to read!! I've wanted to read this one for a while now - hearing it called a must-read just makes me want to read it more! There's a few books on my bedside table that I need to start first, but that's going on the definite list!

Amber said...

Since you said it's a must-read, I'm marking it down on my "must-read" list, which is ever growing. I will have to try and make it to the library one of these days!!

P.O.M. said...

Thanks for the comment. I should probably say that Marathon #1 I was injured and had gained 14 lbs so running was more difficult. I finished in 4:45. But marathon #2 I dropped weight and had a great training season so I finished in 3:48.

This book sounds interesting. Will put it on my list.

Anonymous said...

I read it and saw the movie...quite an amazing story!

Meg said...

i think i have a lot of reading to catch up!!! i love all of your reviews--someday i will have to sit down and read a couple of them--maybe when we finally get some sun around here!