Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

I just finished a fantastic book that would be a good choice for high school juniors and seniors. It is the autobiographical The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby. Bauby was the editor-in-chief of French Elle magazine who suffered a stroke that resulted in locked-in syndrome when he was 43 years old. Afterwards, he was paralyzed and only able to communicate by blinking his left eye. It is hard to imagine this graceful, beautifully written book was dictated by blinks of an eyelid. Clearly that and all of Bauby's experiences must have been frustrating to say the least, and yet The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is not filled with bitterness. It is wistful and humorous and thoughtful. Bauby describes the experience of locked-in syndrome as being caught in a diving bell, but ultimately, it is the butterfly, the power of the mind and spirit, which triumphs. The butterfly soars through memory and imagination. Bauby travels from his hospital room through memory and in flights of imagination.
Why is this a good choice for teenagers? It is short which is often a selling point. It is well written but never difficult to understand. It is inspiring. It puts one's own problems in perspective when considering Bauby's. Finally, although written by a Frenchman in his forties who had led a cosmopolitan lifestyle before his stroke, it forces readers to imagine themselves in Bauby's condition and how they might handle it.
Sadly, Bauby died just days after the French publication of the book. Recently, it was adapted into an award winning film. I'm curious to check that out next.


cassiegsawyer said...

I loved "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly", but the movie I'd rather see is "My Stroke of Insight", which is the amazing bestselling book by Dr Jill Bolte Taylor. It is an incredible story and there's a happy ending. She was a 37 year old Harvard brain scientist who had a stroke in the left half of her brain. The story is about how she fully recovered, what she learned and experienced, and it teaches a lot about how to live a better life. Her TEDTalk at TED dot com is fantastic too. It's been spread online millions of times and you'll see why!

Christine said...

Thanks for the recommendation! I'm going to look for it.