The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

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We've all got our idiosyncrasies when it comes to writing--a special chair we have to sit in, a certain kind of yellow paper we absolutely must use. To create this tremendously affecting memoir, Jean-Dominique Bauby used the only tool available to him--his left eye--with which he blinked out its short chapters, letter by letter. Two years ago, Bauby, then the 43-year-old editor-in-chief of Elle France, suffered a rare stroke to the brain stem; only his left eye and brain escaped damage. Rather than accept his "locked in" situation as a kind of death, Bauby ignited a fire of the imagination under himself and lived his last days--he died two days after the French publication of this slim volume--spiritually unfettered. In these pages Bauby journeys to exotic places he has and has not been, serving himself delectable gourmet meals along the way (surprise: everything's ripe and nothing burns). In the simplest of terms he describes how it feels to see reflected in a window "the head of a man who seemed to have emerged from a vat of formaldehyde."

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: 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 extraordinary book.

By turns wistful, mischievous, angry, and witty, Bauby bears witness to his determination to live as fully in his mind as he had been able to do in his body. He explains the joy, and deep sadness, of seeing his children and of hearing his aged father's voice on the phone. In magical sequences, he imagines traveling to other places and times and of lying next to the woman he loves. Fed only intravenously, he imagines preparing and tasting the full flavor of delectable dishes. Again and again he returns to an "inexhaustible reservoir of sensations," keeping in touch with himself and the life around him.

Jean-Dominique Bauby died two days after the French publication of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

This book is a lasting testament to his life.

From the Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews:

  • Excellent Medical Memoir from a Patient's Perspective
    One of my neurology professors recommended this book to us since we were talking about strokes, including "locked in" syndrome, in school. I am very glad that I read it. In spite of his condition, the author's intelligence and even a dry sense of humor about the turn his life has taken comes through clearly. He must have been quite an intriguing and vibrant man, the kind of person you would have liked to invite to dinner if you could only choose three people. Not only is the book interesting to read from an ethical perspective, as several other reviewers have commented, but it also is interesting from a medical and scientific perspective. It is much more common to see neurology patients who are more or less physically intact but have become demented or vegetative. This man had the opposite problem: his intellect and cognitive abilities were intact, but his brain could no longer communicate with his body. The location of the stroke was absolutely crucial. If his lesion had been just a bit lower, it could have affected the part of the brainstem that controls consciousness. He would have been in a coma, and never have written this extraordinary book....more info
  • Motivational!
    This book is excellent in every way. It really has pushed me to finish writing my own book. Within a week, I wrote my first chapter and found a well-known agent - it's a great motivational tool!

    LA Mu?oz...more info
  • The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
    Received the product within 5 days or less. It was in immaculate condition!! Thank you....more info
  • The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: A Memoir of Life and Death
    I thought this was a wonderful quick read. I saw the movie and couldn't wait to read the book. How amazing that in all his struggles he was able to write this book. It shows you that even without body function the amazing strength of his will can go on....more info
  • Uplifting and Inspiring
    Strange to say that a man befelled by a horrible stroke that leaves him mute and trapped in his body leaves such an inspiring message with the rest of the world. My husband picked this book up and couldn't read it because he thought it would be depressing. My parents lent us this book to share their excitement over being inspired by this man, this author. It is with caution that I picked up this book as I was not in a mood to cry.

    I didn't cry. But it did leave a lasting impression on me though. A man who is alive, perhaps more alive than most of us are, trapped in his body that he called like living under a diving bell, manages to create a lasting beautiful memoir of a man deeply alive till his last moments. It doesn't matter that he couldn't get up nor talk. He still feeled and ached in his mind and he was truly a human being though his body failed him. By this, I mean, he refused to allow despair to overtake him and rob him of the joys of living his last days. He chose to find beauty in the simplest things. He chose to remember his life and created new stories to amuse himself and possibly others. Not till the end, did he mention how it all happened.

    This is truly an inspiring little gem of a book. I didn't take it as a political book but as a reminder that life is indeed fragile and fleeting. It is possible to live to the fullest in spite of pain and grief and being locked down in one's body. Beauty isn't necessarily physical but it is spiritual. And this is a very spiritual book where it celebrates life.

    2/17/08...more info
  • I am alive, I can think and no one has the right to deny me these 2 realities....
    Yes! That is what this book is about, a man who's life has drastically changed by an almost fatal neurological accident. He can only dictate his story by blinking his left eyelid and using the most common letters in the French about making a book in the most un-imaginable way.

    The result is nevertheless a wonderful account of his two years in the people reacted to his condition, how remembering was one of the most beautiful escapes he would have...but most of all how to get by one day at a time.

    I have read in the past Tuesday's with Murray, a book I found fantastic as well, but be aware these two are different things. They both talk about remarkable men under their circumstances, but the way they were written are very different, they are both excellent.

    Finally, I would only like to add that it takes very little time and money for someone like you and me to read a book like this, but the perspectives that it leaves in its readers are tremendous......more info
  • acceptance of fate is his gift
    First, the story of this man communicating with the world by blinking his left eye is fascinating. The description of prioritizing letters based on their frequency of use in the French language is really cool.

    However, the real wonder in this book is Jean-Dominique's acceptance of fate. He is certainly not happy with it, and feels quite demeaned at times by hospital staff, but he keeps on going, and as a result we have this beautiful memoir that he shared with the world....more info
  • Prose from behind the Wall
    There are several marvelous things about The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. The most incredible thing about this spare French memoir is that it was blinked by a former editor who had a stroke and became "locked-in." Even holding the book up to your eyes, free at all times to get up and look out the window or scratch your foot, produces a powerful swirl of emotions: awe at being alive at all, gratitude for not being "locked-in," compassion for this intelligent man imprisoned in a worst-nightmare scenario, guilt at not having done more with one's own healthy life. In this respect the book is not to be missed. The book cleans out the cobwebs of routine, allowing for a crisp new persepctive on reality.

    As far as the story goes, the chapters unfold in two or three pages and mostly chronicle life at the Brittany hospital where the author finds himself after the stroke. There are also a few flashbacks to life before the stroke. The book, surprisingly, is almost totally devoid of self pity and the prose is taut (as expected) and well structured. It's about a two hour read and well worth your time.

    I came to this book via the 2007 film. I was so moved by the film that I went out and read the book the following weekend. The merits of the film are well documented. Sort of a side note, one way the film diverges from the memoir is in the sexualization of the female characters, ie nurses, ex-wife, lovers. So much of the film is spent on lusty shots that I was surprised upon reading the book that it contains almost none of that. That's film for you.
    ...more info
  • Small Book's Got a Giant 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 retained was the ability to blink his left eye; by use of it, he developed a kind of sign language that allowed him to dictate letter by painstaking letter the brief and luminous chapters that make up THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY.

    Anyone could easily have forgiven Bauby had he chosen to lapse into the kind of rage and unhinged sentimentality that characterize (although justifiably so) other memoirs based on extreme medical situations. However, he takes a wholly different route. Like "the invisible diving bell" that imprisons his body and the butterfly wings of memory and meditation that provide some relief, Bauby's prose floats back and forth between the severe and the sublime.

    Astonishing above all else is the stream of humor that flows unforced and unfettered throughout the book, as when the editor insists on being allowed to drool while dressed in cashmere rather than in hospital garb. From musings on the glamour of his former life to the simple pleasures of a leisurely bath, this book contains much irony and healthy doses of cynicism. It displays as well the brilliant dignity of one damaged soul's refusal to fade into nothingness before having its final say. Despite Bauby's death two days after the French publication of his book, his voice will boom through these pages for many years to come.

    Author-Poet Aberjhani
    author of The Harlem Renaissance Way Down South
    ...more info
  • A True Inspiration For Us All
    Jean-Dominique Bauby's "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" is a truly moving and inspirational memoir by a man rendered incapable of any communication except for the blinking of his left eye and very slight head movement. Bauby had suffered from a stroke, which led to what is so aptly known as `locked-in-syndrome'.

    Bauby, a distinguished journalist who had been editor-in-chief at Elle, famously used his one book contract with a publisher (signed before the stroke) to write this memoir by recounting his story through blinking his left eye to spell out every letter of every single word to an interpreter/assistant who would recite a special frequency arranged alphabet to Jean-Do.

    This fascinating and unbelievable pretext sticks with the reader throughout the memoir, with it so often seeming amazing that such lucid and vivid metaphors and accounts of life could be communicated by a man in such an imprisoned state.

    From his refusal to pity himself or lament his situation, to his heart-wrenching yet moving description of his plight as that of being trapped in a "cocoon", with his inability to move any part of his body being likened to being forever imprisoned by an old-fashioned diving suit, Bauby constantly moves the reader with his courage and heightened state of awareness. By declaring his situation as not a burden, but instead an opportunity to free his mind and let it take "flight like a butterfly", Bauby delivers a memoir that is so precious for demonstrating a man's noble minded acceptance of fate, and embracement of opportunity.

    Jean-Do's memoir recounts his time at the hospital in France where he is left to try and rehabilitate following his stroke. There is a constant strong sense of humour evident from the author, with Jean-Do wittily noting that seeing as his original idea for a novel (conceived prior to the stroke) had coincidentally involved a victim of locked-in-sydrome, he had considered making the new hero of his book "not a paralytic but a runner" in the hope of achieving another coincidental turn of events. This sense of humour and ability to look at the bright side of things underlines Bauby's ability to connect with the reader, putting them at ease whilst at the same time discarding the possible misconception that a person in his state would be incapable of retaining their wit, or any sort of personality.

    Throughout the book, it is Bauby's amazing strength of will and spirit that remains at the forefront of the readers mind. Despite the tragic and disheartening situation that he remains in, Bauby shows no hesitance in opening up a new chapter in his life. Despite such huge emotional challenges like being unable to hug his own child, or shake a fly off his nose, Jean-Do finds a way to live his life in a fulfilling way, avoiding the depression and grief that would be so tempting to succumb to.

    What makes this memoir so great is that it provides an example for all of us to follow. The inspirational message underpinning Bauby's work is inescapable, and leaves the reader with a far greater appreciation of their life, reminding them to enjoy the numerous simple, yet joyful pleasures we so often take for granted....more info
  • Buy it!
    Although the author had been an editor in his previous life, not all editors can write a thoughtful,well written expose on life in the diving bell(he uses this symbolism to express what his life has become after a stroke left him only able to blink his eye).
    The book is an unbelievably joyous romp through his trials and tribulations since life dealt him a heavy blow. He does not want sympathy just your attention as you constantly wait for him to break down, which he doesn't do.

    This book was an odd choice for me but one that I'm finding I have no trouble recommending. It is short, intelligently written(with the blink of an eye)and one that will stay with you. ...more info
  • Interesting book, although not what I expected
    Interesting book. I'm left a little stranded when deciding how I feel about it. Jean-Dominique, a 43 year old editor of the French Elle Magazine, has a massive stroke and is left trapped in his own body. His brain, his wit, his intelligence are still there, but his only communication with the outside word is the blinking of his left eye.

    The writing is lovely and touching and very sad as he describes things as varied as the day of his stroke, his dreams, a Father's Day at the beach with his kids, and the letters his friends send him. I did not finish it feeling inspired though. What I did walk away with, was a big question of `why.' Dictating this book letter-by-painful-letter, why did he chose the topics he did? And is the choice of those topics the portrayal of who he is as a person?

    I don't know. I can't help but wonder what I would chose to do, be, write, if I were in his situation. It is his answer to the question that I find so interesting.
    ...more info
  • the diving bell and butterfly
    THank you! Fast shipping, exactly as promised. SUch an amazing book--you should see the movie as well....more info
  • A Sea Within
    Noise torments him. So does the nurse who leaves the TV blaring. So does the fly crawling on his nose. The doctor who sews his right eye shut without explaining why. Friends who read the special alphabet (his only means of communication) so fast they end up with gibberish.

    Jean Dominique Bauby apparently hadn't spent much time on spiritual development in his first 43 years. But he discovers rich inner resources in the diving bell, his mind escaping to intense memories, sensual pleasures, and imaginary places, conversations, and meals. He loves to be wheeled to the end of the beach near the hospital, where he can inhale the aroma of the sizzling French fries he will never again taste.

    I wish the publisher had included a photo of Bauby before his stroke and a close-up of him locked in. We get 1 grainy black and white shot of him in his wheel chair, on the balcony of the hospital looking out to sea on a cold, bleak day. That picture is more depressing than anything the author writes about his tragic situation.

    I'm glad this little gem, published just 2 days before Bauby's death, has been made into a movie. Like the Spanish protagonist played by Javier Bardem in El Mar Adentro, this Frenchman discovered a sea within.

    Nancy Manahan, author of
    Living Consciously, Dying Gracefully - A Journey with Cancer and Beyond...more info
  • Inspiring Book.
    After reading the book and seeing the movie. My life has changed. I see the live in a different aspect. I enjoy the short moments and appreciate the hectic moments.

    RIP Jean-Do Bauby....more info
  • Life In the Diving Bell
    Jean-Dominique Bauby was the editor of the French Elle magazine. Imagine what his life was; to be an arbiter of style, of what is chic, in that most glittering of cities, Paris. He consorted with the innest of the in crowd. He was one of the fates chosen ones. At the age of 43 he suffered a massive stroke that wiped out the abilities of his brain stem. He became of victim of "locked-in syndrome", where his mind continued to function as well as ever, but his only bodily ability was to blink his left eyelid and rotate his head slightly. He wrote this book after his stroke had robbed him of his former life. He names his mind "the butterfly" since it can still fly to exotic places, enjoy friends, remember sumptuous meals, and reflect on his current life which he calls, "the diving bell". The mechanics of writing this slim book are a testament to his determination. The French alphabet was arranged in order of frequency of usage. An assistant would read the alphabet to him. When the correct letter was reached, Bauby would blink his left eye. Painstaking letter by letter this book grew to document his thoughts on his life in the diving bell. Because the writing is so laborious, Bauby was forced to be economical with his words, yet his mind still wants to communicate so badly, "I need to feel strongly, to love and to admire, just as desperately as I need to breathe."
    Bauby was never a saint, but robbed of everything, he is nothing more than a human trying to survive a horrible situation. Cut off from almost everyone and everything, he still manages to craft a life. One day, he inadvertently catches sight of his reflection in a window pane, "I saw the head of a man who seemed to have emerged from a vat of formaldehyde. His mouth was twisted, his nose damaged, his hair tousled, his gaze full of fear. One eye was sewn shut, the other goggled liked the doomed eye of Cain. For a moment I started at that dilated pupil, before I realized it was only mine. Whereupon a strange euphoria came over me. Not only was I exiled, paralyzed, mute, half deaf, deprived of all pleasures, and reduced to the existence of a jellyfish, but I was also horrible to behold." Yet he allows us to fly with the butterfly as well. Even though the only way he can take nourishment is through a tube in his stomach, he sits down to the most wonderful meals. Since he is the cook, the food is always prepared perfectly. At the beginning of his enforced fast, he was gluttonous. He conjured up food all the time indiscriminately. Soon he learned to savor his pleasures though, imagining strawberries only in the early summer, celebrating autumn with oysters. The butterfly brings him not just food, but books, art, theatre, friends, family, hopes and desires. This book is such a quick read, but I think it is better read slowly, a few pages at a time. There are no great philosophical discussions to ponder in the book, only the most profound questions of all. What makes a human human? What makes a life worthwhile? ...more info
  • "Are you there, Jean-Do?"
    Weary of the in-house feuding, preciousness, and self-absorption of so many "professional" book reviewers, I quit reading literary magazines some years ago. For the most part, I don't regret my decision. But one of its costs is that I sometimes discover gems later than I otherwise might've. One of those gems, which just came my way, is Bauby's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

    Bauby's memoir has so many dimensions. It's an eloquent testimony to human endurance and heroism. It's a meditation on the relationship between mind and body. It's a real-life exercise in Proustian memory. It's a heartbreaker, but it's also genuinely funny in places.

    But what fascinates me most about this incredible book is Bauby's reflections on what it means to have a self. So much of who we are is wrapped up in our body-awareness (just as so much of what we think we know about others comes from our awareness of their bodies). When the body becomes a diving bell, a prison over which we have no control and to which we feel (quite literally) no connection, what does it do to our sense of personal identity? The Cartesians among us who think that we're essentially mind may not feel as if the self is compromised when the body is locked down. But Bauby (and I) doubt it. We're not disincarnate spirits. We're enfleshed creatures, and when we lose our embodiment--our ability to eat, to feel wetness or softness, to experience physical intimacy with the beloved, to "own" our bodies--we lose something essential. Acquiring "butterfly hearing" (p. 97), an enhanced sensitivity to one's memories and thoughts that allows one to temporarily transcend paralysis, is fortunate. But it is, after all, compensatory.

    At one point, someone who's telephones Bauby anxiously asks him: "Are you there, Jean-Do?" Bauby's internal response: "I have to admit that at times I do not know anymore." (p. 42)

    Highly recommended. Readers might also want to take a look at Richard Cohen's just-published Strong at the Broken Places: Voices of Illness, A Chorus of Hope....more info
  • Amazing -- I read it one sitting!
    This slim work is utterly engrossing. I read it in less than an hour and a half, which is a new record for me. It tells the tale of Bauby, who suffered a stroke and was literally encased like a vegetable for the rest of his short life. He surpasses this status and soars with this beautiful account of life that is limited but not denied. Astonishing, life-affirming, not cheesy, very well-written... Enjoyable for anyone, at any age! Sad, lovely and amazing....more info
  • A love story in the blink of an eye . . .
    "My mind takes flight like a butterfly."

    At the age of 43, Jean-Dominique Bauby, a well-known Parisian, and the French editor of Elle magazine, suffered a stroke which rendered his brain stem inactive. When he woke from a deep coma twenty days later, he found he was mute and almost entirely paralyzed. He could only move his head a little, grunt, and blink his left eye. This rare condition is called locked-in syndrome. In this condition, Bauby authored The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Le scaphandre et le papillon) entirely in his head, conveying it one letter at a time by blinking his left eye when an assistant reciting the alphabet arrived at the letter he had in mind. The extraordinary book reportedly took about 200,000 blinks to write. It was published in France on March 6, 1997. Bauby died two days later. I decided to read this book before seeing Julian Schnabel's film adaptation of Bauby's memoir.

    As if his paralyzed body were imprisoned in a diving bell, with his mind still as free as a butterfly, Bauby's poignant memoir is a rare testament in what it means to be human. To get a sense of what his book is about--imagine Bauby, his right eyelid sutured shut, fed a brownish fluid through a gastric tube, drooling uncontrollably, breathing through a tracheostomy tube, his urine leaking into his bedding from a catheter, meanwhile traveling the world in his memory, reflecting upon his family and friends, socializing at the Cafe de Flore, eating French food (boeuf en gelee and homemade sausage and wine), and remembering the pleasure of lying in bed beside his lover. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, as the title "A Memoir of Life in Death" suggests, is a love story about one man's love of life. Recommended for anyone interested in what it means to be truly alive in the world.

    G. Merritt...more info
  • Heartwarming Miracle
    My MD recommended this book when it was first published in France. I had to special order an English version. He said it was "a must read". I have since bought and given away countless copies of the book. The message of hope, mercy, and grace bring tears of joy to me each time I read it. I have read it many many times and each new reading gives me a new insight into the diving bell. It is a an easy read, but I am reminded of the great effort it took to write it. God's mercy gave him strength to blink the book and his own grit gave him the spirit to finish it. Many of us with medical issues can relate to his words, but I don't think I have ever met a person with such courage....more info
  • A book close to my heart
    The book has been the best book I have ever read.
    The book is a testimony to the resilience and never-say-die spirit of a man. How this man decides to write a book while he is sick, and provide a rare insite into his condition. Amazingly the writer decides against portraying a sad picture of his condition(though at times he can't help it) and entertains by making the narration funny, just for the sake of his readers.
    Reading this book has been a very humbling experience and I would suggest this to everyone I know. Hats off to the spirit of the writer. A must read for everyone....more info
  • Outstanding
    Great book that looks into the mind of a man trapped in a immobile body....more info
  • Fascinating story
    This story is absolutely captivating. The author is a man who is unable to communicate except for his ability to blink one eye. The entire book was dictated in this manner after having suffered a stroke. I read this book from the mindset of a health professional and I found it to be very helpful for empathizing with the patient. It is important to remember that just because a patient cannot speak, does not mean that they are not fully in their mind. I think this book would be a fascinating and useful read for both health professionals and lay persons....more info
  • Not a big impression. Sorry.
    Quite frankly, this was just not my type of book. I definitely feel compassion for Bauby. I think it is absolutely amazing he was able to dictate a book in this condition. I am not familiar with "locked in syndrome" and I admire Bauby for his determination under these dire circumstances. However, I am not a big fan of a book where the focus is more on metaphors and writing style. I think it takes away from the emotion that can be projected to the reader. It is a possibility Bauby hid behind the words and phrases and I do not blame him for this. This book just wasn't able to leave that big of an impression on me. I feel bad about that but not guilty. ...more info
  • Very Inspiring
    This is a very inspiring and amazing book. Bauby's situation might have seemed hopeless to most, but he turned it into an opportunity. He devised an alphabet which could be communicated by using the only body part he could move, his left eye. Through this communication vehicle he was able to "talk" to his family, friends and those tending to him, if they would only take the time to listen. Bauby's efforts provide helpful information to health care providers as well as to those with loved ones who are caught in the throes of locked-in syndrome which may be experienced by some stroke victims. Despite the dismal circumstances, Bauby's handling of the situation makes this an uplifting book. I could only hope to be half as brave as Bauby given the same circumstances....more info
  • What I learned from The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
    I learned for some men passion and lust is more important than love no matter how painful....more info
  • A Beautiful Mind
    I wrote a glowing review of this book a few years back,so I hope the full text of that is still buried in here somewhere.However,I'd like to add one more thing:how sad I find it that Mr.Igoe can call Mr.Bauby's book the work "of an ugly mind".My viewpoint of Mr. Bauby was just the opposite-that his was truly a voice of great beauty,complexity,courage & humour.Yes,to be sure he was a deeply flawed man-(aren't we all?)at the time of his stroke he was separated from his wife,had a somewhat laissez-faire attitude to his girlfriend,exhibited a deeply hedonistic streak,& scattered through his prose are touches of a certain dismissive Gallic arrogance towards those who irritate him.
    But the point is,in spite of these deeply human frailties,Bauby acquits himself more than honorably in the wake of the catastrophic stroke that would leave him locked inside his frozen corpus.That he could in fact,create an inner life of Imagination,of Art,of Memory,and still contribute to an outside world(through his newsletter and Foundation) that had largely forgotten him after his fall from grace is testament to the potential and potency of every spirit.Bauby's flaws become even more poignant as his situation forces him to evaluate what really matters in the making of A Life.As butterflies undergo metamorphosis while in a cocoon,so did Bauby's plodding caterpillar of a character metamorphose and transcend the imposed limits of his own prison.I would add that this unflattering picture is painted by Bauby himself: at no times does he try to sugarcoat his own failings.And when your work has been dictated through nothing but blinks,I imagines a certain amount of niceties of structure go out the window.
    I can only guess that Mr. Igoe's barrier to seeing the beauty of Bauby's soul is largely a cultural one.To be sure,it is hard to imagine an Englishman writing in such a curt fashion,and I'm sure in some parts French original loses something in English translation.
    Are we so used to many so-called 'heroes' in popular culture being so thoroughly sanitized & semi-deified in their presentation in order to 'inspire' us,(from the puffery of Tom Cruise to Dickie Attenborough's OTT,yet oddly colorless portrait of Gandhi) we have no desire to hear a message from a fractured mortal like Bauby?In doing so we forget the real miracle of heroism is that it usually springs not from saints or supermen but from quite ordinary folk with bellies & bad tempers,men who at the end of the day took a painful journey to overcome their failings in order to understand the true essence of being a Human Being.Bauby is one such Broken Angel.His book is one of the few to have a profound effect on my life and I am indebted to him for it.
    Having read both the book and seen the documentary,I see a film has been made to great critical acclaim.Apparently it is quite faithful to the source.My sincere hope is that those who failed to connect with the message of the book will be persuaded when its many beautiful images are presented visually on screen.As the book enriched and shook my world,I wish the same experience for them.
    ...more info
  • Flight
    How does someone even begin to review a book like this? The beauty of its prose, its imagery, the unbearable pathos of the backstory behind its creation. All the superlatives have been heaped on it by others. I just wanted to add another recommendation....more info
  • THE book, i read it in a coffee guzzling epiphany filled evening
    this book
    as i said, i read this in 1 evening
    guzzling coffee, carrying the book to the kitchen along as i refilled my mug, reading, underlining, scribbling quotes down for later meditation, i immediately lent it to a friend, and left voicemails on phones for others to read it, like yesterday, this is a must have for anyone, but especially for you if you sometimes wonder why life is special, just as it is.
    please get it
    that will make me happy
    and you know that's what its all about
    :)...more info
  • One word...
    OUTSTANDING. This is the type of book you think about over and over and over again, long after you've finished reading it. A must read for everyone. ...more info
  • The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
    "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" is terribly overhyped. Naturally it is a phenomenal undertaking for a disabled Jean-Dominique Bauby, but it is far from a quality literary work. It reads more like a moneymaking venture if it was intended to be published; or marketing it as a literary work was the moneymaking venture. I will see the movie though in the hope that it is different from the book. This book certainly would not lift up the spirits of a convalescing disabled person. ...more info
  • A Novel Menagerie's Perspective on The Diving Bell & The Butterfly
    After reading Lisa's Best of 2008 List and after speaking to a fellow "Basketball Mom" last week, I was intrigued to read The Diving Bell and The Butterfly. The story is a sort of an auto-biographical one, however only sharing Bauby's remarkably beautiful memories of the life he lost after the massive stroke he suffered in December 1995. At the time, Bauby was 43 years old and the editor of French Elle Magazine. From what I gather in this book, his life was once filled with travel and he was the type of man with an incredible passion for life. Once stripped of his physical abilities and the ability to effectively function and communicate due to "locked-in syndrome," a permanent and full paralysis as a result of the stroke, his mind craves to communicate the very acute and real memories to his bedside assistant.

    Bauby is able to communicate via the blinking of his one functioning eye. He describes in the book that he had written and edited the material multiple times in his mind so that the effort to communicate it was clear the first time around. In his memoirs and thoughts, he shares his vivid memories of his travels in his past and times with his family and friends. He further describes what it is like to be trapped in this non-functioning body and compares it to being weighted by a diving bell/suit. He shares what all his sensory functions are like: eyesight, hearing, dreams, smell, and pain.

    This book was, to me, more of a book of prose than of typical writing. Each line of the book intricately designed to effectively provide the reader a vision and an understanding.

    In describing how it felt to now be described as a vegetable:

    "The tone of voice left no doubt that henceforth I belong on a vegetable stall and not to the human race. France was at peace; one couldn't shoot the bearers of bad news. Instead I would have to rely on myself if I wanted to prove that my IQ was still higher than a turnip's."

    And, he describes the hospital cafeteria:

    "Although my own corner of the hospital has the look of an expensive private school, one would never mistake the cafeteria crowd for member of the Dead Poets Society. The girls have hard eyes, the boys tattoos and some with rings on their fingers. There they sit, chain-smoking and talking about fistfights and motorbikes. Their already stooped shoulders seem to bear a heavy cross. Cruel fate has cured them, and their stay at Berck is just one more stage between an abused childhood and jobless future. When I am wheeled through their smoke-filled lair, the silence becomes deafening; I see neither pity nor compassion in their eyes."

    Some of my favorite parts of the book include his visit to the beach, his viewing of his children playing, and his description of what food tastes like although he is only being fed by a tube. This is a remarkable book in the knowing of how it was written and the determination it took Bauby to ensure its completion.

    On Sher's "Out of Ten Scale:"

    There is no clear book to use as a comparison to this one as it is unique in every way. This is a book that reminds you of the sheer preciousness of life and the value of human health. For the genre Non-Fiction, I would give this book a 9 out of 10. My thanks go out to Lisa for lending me the book.

    ...more info
  • If you ever feel hard done by...
    This short book is indispensable reading. It is the perfect non chemical cure for any mild depression, effects of hard days and decisions, or any type of generally feeling sorry for oneself. It's the story of a man trapped inside his body because of a stroke - and the life, fun, mischief and spirit that he displays are humbling. It's also funny, lively, and above all true. The author (who died shortly after the book was finished) dictated the book one letter at a time, but it reads beautifully and stays with you afterwards. Whatever your issues - work, love, looks, life, religion, money - perhaps even health, this will remind you about what it is to be alive at all. At the risk of sounding a complete hippy, do have a read, and do be happy....more info
  • Bauby's story will remain with you
    At this point, mostly everyone knows the story of what happened to Jean-Dominique Bauby as well as the story of his life, so it's pointless to rehash what's already common knowledge, but one thing that needs to be said (or reiterated) is that it's absolutely amazing that the late Bauby dictated this book to his therapist by blinking one letter at a time.

    "The Diving Bell and The Butterfly" is a pretty quick read, but what's contained within is, at the risk of sounding cliche, deeply moving and powerful. To think that someone was patient enough (in this day and age of minus zero patience and even shorter attention spans) to take the time to transcribe his thoughts one letter at a time defies description.

    As always, some details were changed in the adaptation from the book to the movie, but the message remains the same - and it will remain with you long after reading the book and/or watching the movie. - Donna Di Giacomo...more info
  • Inspiring
    Ok, so you've had a "hard day". Your car wouldn't start this morning, your wife or husband ignored you and didn't say "goodbye" or "hello" let alone "I love you", your kids demanded candy and toys and cried "I hate you" when you didn't give in to them, your job is boring, your life is boring, no one likes you let alone loves you, your paycheck was deducted for a traffic ticket and you received 10 utility bills today in the mail, your credit card debt is going up and up every month...and you feel "sorry for yourself"..."Oh, what a hard life I have!" Then, read this book! The writer of the book suffered a massive stroke to his "brain stem" which took away ALL movement except for the ability to wink ONE eye! He can't stand up, he can't move ANY part of his body except for the one eye, he can't speak, his hearing is impaired allowing him to understand voices that are close by while all other noises are distorted and torture him by being too loud, and the list goes on. Sundays are his worst days because no doctors or physical therapists or anyone else visits him so he's basically alone in a hospital bed all day with nothing to do but think about the past, and so forth. So, you THINK you had a "bad day"!!! But, he copes. He can write using his ONE eyelid by blinking when someone says the letters of a word he wants to write. He wrote this book to tell us all what it is like to experience "locked-in syndrome". And it "aint" fun! But, he copes. And he thinks and he remembers and his MIND is like a butterfly that can fly to anywhere he wants it to go! So, he finds solace and "meaning" in his "hospital bed locked- in life". So, you think, "if there's hope for this guy to have a life, what about me who can use all my faculties, am surrounded by interesting things to do and places to go, and can enjoy talking with people and eat ice-cream and do all type of things that this other "locked in" guy can't do." So, you put the book down, you stop feeling sorry for yourself, and you are happier from reading his book! And you are thankful to the writer for giving you some perspective into the "little" things you "suffer" and you feel better thanks to him. So, if you're feeling "down" maybe this book might help you realize all the blessing you, and I, really have. ...more info
  • Diving Bell
    This is an informative and eye opening book into the thoughts of a person with 'locked in' syndrome. It was light reading. Is a short book as one could expect considering the conditins it had to be written under. ...more info
  • Haunting. Beautiful. SCARY
    Wow. To say that this book makes an impact is to state the obvious. Jean existed in what I would call a "living hell" -- alert and cognizant though paralyzed and trapped -- "locked in" his mind without the ability to communicate his thoughts, feelings, needs, or condition to anyone. He suffered a stroke at a very young age and was left completely paralyzed with only the capability of sight, thought and the ability to blink his left eye. I felt his frustration, his every breath, his longing to move his finger even a fraction of an inch, his pain at his inability to express himself. Thank heavens for the ESA alphabet and the breakthrough that allowed him to communicate. He dictated this memoir by blinking to Claude as she reached each letter of each word in each sentence in this book.

    A testimony to the human spirit. It's not really sad, it's uplifting to think that this incredible man overcame his imprisonment in his mind to tell us all that he was still "there" through it all.

    I hope it makes just one person compassionate and caring. I wish that everyone, somehow, learns about this condition and will use this knowledge if faced with or dealing with someone who has it.

    To say it's inspirational would be to give some meaning to Jean's suffering. There is no meaning. It was a horrible way to live the last year of your life.

    But this story and Jean Do will linger in my mind for a very long time. ...more info
  • Amazing
    A rare look into the mind of a severely affected stroke victim. He has more courage than I have and I am glad he took the time to share his world with me....more info
  • This book has taught me to be appreciative of life's little things
    Quadriplegia a horrible fate, to be physically confined to a wheel chair and to even lose the ability to move one's arms! [Christopher Reeves is indelibly etched in my mind]. So you can imagine how much worst, confining and monstrous a fate is "locked-in-syndrome." This is caused by the destruction of the brainstem, either by accident or severe stroke [as in the author's case]. The brainstem sends messages to the muscles. Those unfortunate enough to be afflicted with this malady can't even speak. They are completely entombed in their own body and can only comunicate with the wink of one eye. It's like being trapped in a cadaver. Imagine to not even have the ability to satisfy an itch, squat a fly from your face, position yourself in such a way that relieves the discomfort of a sore arm, tell someone that you're in pain, that you've wet yourself, or to return a love one's affectionate hug, kiss or smile. Imagine knowing that your situation is as bad as it gets. All that is life as we know it and take for granted has changed and will never, ever come back.

    The sheer horror of Jean Dominique Bauby's tragedy--a victim of "locked-in-syndrome-- is beyond words, yet, this book is inspiring and has the power to teach the reader a valuable lesson. It has taught me to be grateful to God, to enjoy life's little pleasures and to live the moment. It has taught me patience and not to worry so much about life's little setbacks.

    I'm very sad for Bauby, but grateful to him for leaving us this wonderful celebration of life. Mr. Bauby's martyrdom has resulted in a beautifully written, inspiring and powerful book that we should all read. I'm, also, grateful to Julian Schnabel for turning this gem into a movie. Schnabel has the ability to turn wonderful books into great motion pictures. He did so in 2000 with Reinaldo Arenas's "Before Night Falls" and did it again this year with Bauby's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

    ...more info
  • A life confirming read
    After reading this book, this mans account of his two years imprisoned in a body that will only allow him to blink one eye, I must daily reconfirm how fortunate I am to type this review and walk about freely.

    I cannot imagine anyone reading this without being profoundly affected by it....more info
  • Rarely does a movie improve the book, but in this case it does!
    I saw the movie before I read the book. Perhaps that was a mistake, but I loved the movie so much that after seeing it three times, I wanted more. So I read the book and wish I hadn't. Julian Schnabel's version of this story is filled with agony but also with light and beauty. The actors are so accomplished and moving (particularly Max von Sidow) that the story becomes human and uplifting, in spite of its tragic ending, and like all great art it affirms the worthwhileness of life, even in its diminished but heroic manifestation. In the book, Bauby--understandably--writes in a self-centered and superficial way. I feel guilty even saying it, because, of course, he was in an unimaginably difficult situation. But Schnabel had a deeper and more insightful vision. Schnabel portrays a man who indeed was selfish and vain at the beginning of his hellish journey, but who is able to turn to imagination and writing as a way of transcending the pettiness, wildness, and meaningless of his former life.
    This change is indicated in several ways. First, when he learns to communicate, Bauby tells his speech therapist that he wants to die. (This does not appear in the book.) She is very upset and reproaches him for his despair. Then she comes back to apologize for stepping out of line. This human interaction of caring and anguish affects the protagonist who decides a short time later to stop feeling sorry for himself and, instead, to use his imagination and memory in order to write down his thoughts and thus defy, in the only way available to him, his diving bell. This decision, probably thought out by the director or the actor (because it is not mentioned in the book) also leads him to reflections of remorse for the way he had been treating his wife and a wish, clearly articulated, to make amends. There is no remorse in the book; instead, Bauby remembers a horrendous fight with his wife, which does not flatter either of them, and conveys little insight into the nature of his toxic relationship with her. His hostility toward her, in the book, is still simmering, even in his paralysis. A Greek philosopher said that suffering leads to wisdom. And that's what great art gives us as a gift nonpareil. I didn't see wisdom in the book, but I did see it in the movie.
    Furthermore, the book skips his meetings with his wife and his girlfriend, meetings which the movie presents in rich and poignant abandon. In the book, Bauby's relationship with his father is summarized, in a paragraph, rather than experienced. In the movie the acting of both von Sidow (as the father) and the actor who plays Bauby is magnificent. The relationship between father and son becomes a profound and moving experience. Schnabel, no doubt, turned a mediocre book into a great work of art. And if he gave the real Bauby a depth he didn't, in reality, have--so be it. ...more info
  • Unique piece of literature
    I bought this book as a christmas gift for a neurologist in my family, after reading a very favorable review of it in a major medical journal. I did not read it myself, but the final recipient was very happy....more info
  • Marvelous!
    The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: A Memoir of Life in Death was highly recommended by staff at the Hospice where I volunteer. The spirit of the book has not left me since reading it several months ago. Jean-Dominique Bauby touches our very souls in his expressions which he struggled to get on paper while he still had time. Many of my family members have now been given this gem and have nothing but raves for its contents....more info
  • I only wish..
    I only wish Jean-Dominique Bauby could have written more. When I sat down to read his memoir it impressed so much, I found myself in deep thought thinking about what powerful things he wrote about. I was taken by the picture of the author 3 pages within the is from a distance but I was very moved by what I saw....more info
  • amazing and terrifying
    It is hard to imagine being in this situation. We are given an insight into a condition that makes us think what would we want given such a limited quality of life. I wish we could have heard from his family about their feelings and communication with their husband and father. It was incredible he was able to learn to dictate this book and credit to the women who so patiently helped to give us this short account of this tragedy....more info
  • Grants you access into a lonely, locked-in world; this poignant memoir is a stark reminder of how precious life is. BCM
    The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly is such an insightful and inspirational book. This is one mans story; his triumph of spirit and his courage despite all odds. That a man in his prime, powerful and respected, could be brought so low by a rare condition known as locked-in syndrome; it is almost to horrible to contemplate. This story is a quick read and has a distinct, flowing plot. I was really fascinated by Jean's indomitable spirit and his sardonic wit. There were many times when I smiled at Jean's comments and thoughts, delighting in his zest for life while in a near vegetative state. The beautiful writing was so vivid and detailed that I could almost see through his one, good eye. His absolute determination, to share his story with the world leaves us forever in his debt. Though I was saddened by his condition and ultimately his death, I really enjoyed his story.
    I highly recommend this book.

    (9 out of 10 Diamonds) - Loved it!

    ? 2008-2009 Bobbie Crawford-McCoy (Book Reviews By Bobbie).
    All rights reserved.

    ...more info
  • A stunning 5-star memoir
    Reviewed by Andrea Stuckey

    (First international version published July 1998, and now translated from French to English by Jeremy Leggatt.)

    Some people select Billy Graham as the most inspirationally motivational Christian in history, or John Gardner in the economical world, for overcoming so much in his life to become a successful business man. If there is one person in history to model the saying "You can do anything if you put your mind to it," especially when unable to physically move a single limb, Jean-Dominique Bauby was that man.

    Plagued by a stroke in his mid forties, the extremely successful French "Elle" editor found himself literally trapped in his own body, unable to communicate with the outside world, except for a code his occupational therapist had remedied. The only problem was, Bauby had no control over any part of his body, except his left eye, which he used in blinking fashion to communicate with the "outside world."

    People and family he'd previously spoken with so easily were so far away from him, without this code, that every dream and waking moment flowed together. Bauby presents the reader with this emotion extremely well with the short chapters, styling each just a bit differently, depending on the emotions he was experiencing during each episode. There were humorous bits where Bauby paints a scene he experiences inside his head, a daydream of sorts, as well as darker pieces of reality, where his existence felt to him as more of a burden than anything.

    If writing a lyrically beautiful memoir isn't enough, the fact that Bauby literally wrote this book through his left eye leaves the reader absolutely stunned afterward. Bauby's intuit into different characteristics people possess is incredible, and it will push the reader to remember there is a soul inside everyone, even if we cannot physically see it move.

    Armchair Interviews says: A stunning memoir to move any reader....more info
  • A remarkable, sometimes heart-breaking book
    On December 8th, 1995, Jean-Dominique Bauby, the forty-three-year-old editor-in-chief of the French Elle, suffered a massive stroke that damaged his brain stem and left him a quadriplegic. Bauby could no longer speak, but his intellect remained intact, trapped inside the "diving bell" of his body. He could shake his head and blink his left eye, and he was able to spell out complex thoughts by blinking when an interlocutor, running a finger across an alphabet board, pointed to the correct letter. During the summer of 1996 Bauby wrote a memoir of his incapacitation, "dictating" by eye blink, letter by letter, the prose he had composed mentally. Bauby writes about his life as a quadriplegic: the searing moment when he realized what everyone else around him already knew, that he wasn't going to regain his speech or mobility; his stints in physical therapy and speech therapy; the indignations of being helpless. He is not self-pitying, but very much aware of the horror of his situation and of what is going on around him.

    "And then one unknown face interposed itself between us. Reflected in the glass I saw the head of a man who seemed to have emerged from a vat of formaldehyde. His mouth was twisted, his nose damaged, his hair tousled, his gaze full of fear. One eye was sewn shut, the other goggled like the doomed eye of Cain. For a moment I stared at that dilated pupil, before I realized it was only mine.

    "Whereupon a strange euphoria came over me. Not only was I exiled, paralyzed, mute, half deaf, deprived of all pleasures, and reduced to the existence of a jellyfish, but I was also horrible to behold. There comes a time when the heaping up of calamities brings on uncontrollable nervous laughter--when, after a final blow from fate, we decide to treat it all as a joke."

    Bauby juxtaposes reminiscences from his previous life--much of it spent traveling the world--with descriptions of the hospital, Berck-sur-Mer, which has become his universe. And he describes the phone calls he receives from friends and family--his ninety-two year old father, whose voice quivers on the phone, his eight-year-old daughter telling him about her pony. He can't respond. Of course, it's his interactions with his two children that are most heart-breaking:

    "As soon as we slow down, C®¶leste cradles my head in her bare arms, covers my forehead with noisy kisses, and says over and over, 'You're my dad, you're my dad,' as if in incantation."

    The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is a short book which, for all its author's labors in dictating it, won't take you more than a couple hours to read. But it's a remarkable book.

    Bauby died on March 8th, 1997, two days after the book's publication in France.

    -- Debra Hamel...more info
  • At sometimes funny, yet with underlying messages of despair. Heartbreakingly entertaining.
    I read this book in one sitting. Great book that shows you the otherside of a wall in which nobody has ever crossed. The only thing that joins these two sides of a wall is a hole, in which Bauby uses his left eye to view this wall and communicate with. Bauby takes us into this world which is engrossingly depressing but Bauby shows us he will not lay victim in this world with his beautifully heartbreaking novel which I just could not put down. Get this book....more info
  • The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Vintage International)
    Dear sir:
    My girl friend send back this book(The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Vintage International) to amazon I wont send back my mony to my creditcard.

    Thanks...more info