In 1995, Jean-Dominique Bauby was the editor-in-chief of French Elle, the father of two young children, 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.
Acclaim for Jean-Dominique Bauby’s “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”
“The sentences soar, unburdened by self-pity or despair, and the progression of short, lyrical chapters begin to resemble the beating of wings.”
— The New Yorker
“An admirable testament to the unkillable self, to the spirit that insists on itself so vehemently that it ultimately transcends and escapes the prison of the body.”
— Francine Prose, Newsday
“The most remarkable memoir of our time—perhaps of any time.”
— Cynthia Ozick
“Shattering eloquence…. The real glory here is Bauby himself, whose spirit asserts itself again and again in the words that survive him.”
— Miami Herald
“To read this most extraordinary of narratives is to discover the luminosity within a courageous man’s mind…. Incomparable.”
— Sherwin B. Nuland, M.D.
“Read this book and fall back in love with life…. The prose…is as light as the sprightliest humor, as pungent as the scent of cooking apricots, as vigorous as the step of a young man setting out on a first date.”