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The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: A Memoir of Life in Death Paperback – June 23, 1998


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 131 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (June 23, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375701214
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375701214
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.2 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (329 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,852 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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." --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Two days after this remarkable book was published in France to great acclaim, its author died of heart failure. What caused such a stir was the method Bauby used to write it. For in December 1995, the 44-year-old former editor-in-chief of the French Elle magazine had suffered a severe stroke that left his body paralyzed but his mind intact, a condition known as "locked-in syndrome." Able to communicate only by blinking his left eyelid, he dictated this book letter by letter to an assistant who recited to him a special alphabet. The result is a marvelous, compelling account of Bauby's life as a "vegetable," full of humor and devoid of self-pity. Although he was trapped in the diving bell of his body, Bauby's imagination "takes flight like a butterflyy....You can wander off in space or in time, set out for Tierra del Fuego or for King Midas's court." His celebration of life against all odds is highly recommended. [Julia Tavalro, who suffers from the same condition, has also written an excellent account, Look Up for Yes, LJ 2/1/97.?Ed.]?Wilda Williams, "Library Journal.
-?Wilda Williams, "Library Journal"
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

This short book is easy to read.
Gorito
The Diving Bell & the Butterfly{Book) This book was written by a comatose man who communicated by one eye!
dotben
It is a beautiful story of how amazing the human mind is.
Josiane teles de souza

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

155 of 163 people found the following review helpful By Priscilla Smith on May 15, 2001
Format: Paperback
This is the most remarkable book I have ever read. I make this comment because my own daughter, age 26, was suddenly "locked-in" two years ago due to a stroke from birth control pills. Her condition mirrors the author's. I used his spelling method and shocked the doctors with her communication abilities. (They had told me she was vegetative.) Bauby's little book has changed our lives. I was deeply saddened by his death from a heart attack. He was beginning to do a great wonder for the unfortunate people with this rare syndrome by starting a newsletter and being the subject of a documentary. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is a clever account of what it's like to be locked-in and a combination of some personal slices of life which ironically relate to the author's terrifying condition.
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306 of 340 people found the following review helpful By Orrin C. Judd VINE VOICE on September 30, 2000
Format: Paperback
In December of 1995, Jean-Dominique Bauby, 43 year old editor in chief of Elle magazine in France, suffered a stroke which severely damaged his brain stem. After several weeks in a coma, he woke to find that he was one of the rare victims of a condition called "locked-in syndrome" or LIS, which had left his mind functioning but his body almost completely paralyzed. In a perverse sense he actually got fairly lucky because, unlike most victims, he was still able to move one eyelid. This allowed him to work out, with a speech therapist, a system of communication which entailed winking as someone slowly read through the alphabet. By using this code, he could painstakingly spell out words, sentences, paragraphs and, finally, this memoir.
The title of the book refers to the metaphors he uses to describe his situation. The physical paralysis leaves him feeling as if he was trapped within a diving bell, as if there is constant pressure pinning his body into immobility. However, at the same time, his mind remains as free as a butterfly and it's flights are as random. In fact, he calls the chapters of this book his "bedridden travel notes" and, indeed, they eloquently relate his journey through memory.
Although Bauby's situation is obviously unique, this book has universal resonance because his condition is itself an apt metaphor for the human condition. It is the essence of Man's dilemma that our infinitely perfectible minds are trapped within such weak containers of flesh and blood. For most of us, at most times, this frustrating dichotomy, between that which makes us godlike and that which makes us mortal, lurks in the background; but the author has it thrust rudely into the foreground, where it necessarily dominates his existence.
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67 of 71 people found the following review helpful By E. Bukowsky HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 9, 2004
Format: Paperback
In 1995, Jean-Dominique Bauby was a vigorous man of 43 when he suddenly had a massive stroke that left him in a coma for twenty days. When he awoke, Bauby found himself a victim of "locked-in syndrome," a state of paralysis in which a person's mind functions while his body is frozen.

Bauby was the father of two young children and the editor-in-chief of a major magazine. He had traveled extensively and was blessed with many friends. After the stroke, his active and exciting life was no more. As a quadriplegic, Bauby had to be bathed, fed by a gastric tube, and moved by nurses and attendants. He could not speak at all. What was there left to live for?

It turns out that Bauby's mind provided him with the spiritual and emotional fuel to keep him from falling into despair. He did not become bitter or cantankerous, and he never lost his humor, imagination, or the wonderful memories that he cherished. Finally, he began to compose this book in his head, and through a system in which blinks of an eye indicated letters of the alphabet, he "dictated" this book to his secretary.

"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" is witty, lyrical, and poignant. Bauby notes that since he could no longer eat in the normal way, he had to dine in his head, imagining himself enjoying beef bourguignon, apricot pie, or even a simple soft-boiled egg. Since he could not speak to his ninety-three year old father, Jean-Dominique's father called him on the phone and spoke to him. When he was finally able to sit in a wheelchair, Bauby was taken to the sea where he admired the colorful umbrellas, the beautiful seascape, and the lovely sailboats. He was destined to live the remainder of his life one step removed from reality, but, in his mind, this was better than not living life at all. Jean-Dominique Bauby lived to see his book published before he died in 1997. "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" is an inspiring testament to the indomitable spirit of a very remarkable man.
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41 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on March 31, 2004
Format: Paperback
Wow. This book is beautiful and haunting. You begin the book with the knowledge of Mssr. Bauby's fate. He proceeds to share with us his eloquent and striking observations post-accident. This book is beautifully and concisely written - it's as tight as a drum - and that is a testament more to Bauby's journalistic talents than his impaired condition. An intellectual with a love for opera, music, writing, and food, he comes to life in these pages despite the brevity of the book. We get a decent sense of him prior to his stroke: a man with a full appetite for life. At times, I had to suck in my breath and set the book down to pause, it was so profoundly heartbreaking. He shares with us his deepest, raw thoughts about his daily life, his former lifestyle, his children, the blessings he misses and the pleasures he now looks forward to, as well as the torment he cannot control. A key point, I think, is that throughout the book he sprinkles his persistent sense of humor, and a feeling of hope. It's amazing considering that he is experiencing something we all agree is our worst nightmare. There is no bitterness on these pages, it's more of an honest wistfulness. Like when he says he would have cheerfully killed one of his caretakers for the neglect he suffered at his hands. I will never forget the irony of the photograph from his childhood sent to him by his father; the description of his last day of normal life; the story of Mithra-Grandchamp; the bleakness of his Sundays and how they lend perspective to his other days (and ours); and his trip to smell the French fries. The meaningfulness and importance of the small, everyday events, abilities, and choices we make are cast in a new light after reading this book. But the experience is like having someone open you up and rip out your heart, such is the sympathy we feel for Bauby. In fact, I will likely be haunted by his descriptions of life, both breathtakingly beautiful and immensely sad. What a man. What a book.
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