ISSUE 70
OCTOBER 1998
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The Diving-bell and the Butterfly

by Jean-Dominique Bauby

Published by: 4th Estate 139 pp. Paperback 5.99.

Reviewed by Linda Dangoor-Khalastchi

After suffering a massive heart-attack, Jean-Dominique Bauby should have died instantly but instead he, the editor-in-chief of French Elle magazine and the father of two young children, fell into a deep and long coma. He awoke, 7 weeks later, to find himself totally paralysed and speechless, with his mind, however, completely intact. An imprisoned soul inside an inert body, with the exception of the left eyelid which he could move. This was to become his only means of communication with the outside world. The medical body considered him a vegetable whose days were counted, but his family and friends never failed him, constantly talking to him and surrounding him with love.

His speech therapist at the hospital devised an ingenious system with the letters of the alphabet with which Bauby could communicate. It consisted of him blinking at every appropriate letter pronounced and thus, with infinite patience, a word would be constructed and then a phrase and then a sentence.

Letter by letter is how the Diving-Bell and the Butterfly was written. It is not only a staggering achievement, but a work of surpassing beauty, unsentimental and yet very moving and funny. A lesson of courage and humility to all of us.

This book took almost 16 months to write. Jean Dominique-Bauby died soon after its completion.

 

 


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