The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

A Memoir of Life in Death

Paperback - 1998
Average Rating:
Rate this:
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.
Published: New York : Vintage Books, 1998, c1997.
Edition: 1st Vintage International ed.
ISBN: 9780375701214
Branch Call Number: WL 355 B337 1997
362.1968 BAU
Characteristics: 131 p. ;,20 cm.


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment
Dec 19, 2017

Lovely writing, great insight.

Oct 11, 2017

Heartbreaking, yet inspiring true story. The author experiences a devastating stroke and its horrifying effects. This man was "buried alive", and yet his spirit and will to live and communicate cannot be vanquished. If you need a book to help you put life's ongoing aggravations into correct perspective, this is it!

A quick read, and well worth it.

Jul 17, 2017

I found "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" interesting, a little confusing at times, moving, and sad. I did not understand the meaning of the title at first, but the author does make the title clear as the reader progresses through the book.

This book is a reminder that despite all the medical technology available to physicians, there are some things that remain out of reach and extremely frustrating to patients and their family members and friends.

I do not know if I would recommend this book to anyone else, it left me with an uneasy feeling, but is it for pity for the family or for my own discomfort for what I have learned about what others endure? I suppose I am not able to answer that question at this time.

May 24, 2017

This is the incredible story of Jean-Dominique Bauby. While at the height of his career as editor-in-chief of Elle magazine in Paris, Bauby suffered a stroke and awoke to a new life as a paralyzed mute. Like other individuals who have "locked-in syndrome", he could feel pain but could not move. The only muscle he could move was his right eyelid.

Using an alphabet where each letter is placed in order according to the frequency of its use in the French language, he dictated this book. As each letter of the alphabet was read, Bauby would blink his eye at the letter to be noted. (This alphabet for interest sake is: ESARINTULOMDPCFBVHGJQZYXKW.)

Bauby has given us an incredible gift by telling his story. At times heartbreaking and at times funny, this story is unforgettable. Here are two excerpts from his book:

"...Reflected in the windowpane 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 a jelly-fish existence, 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 buffet from fate, we decide to treat it all as a joke..."

"Sunday. I dread Sunday, for if I am unlucky enough to have no visitors there will be nothing at all to break the dreary passage of the hours. No physiotherapist, no speech pathologist, no shrink. Sunday is crossing the desert, it only oasis a sponge bath..."

Bauby passed away just two days after this book was published.

Apr 17, 2017

i wish this book as available at KCLS in FRENCH

Feb 18, 2014

I have never seen a book and movie work so well together - stunning ! Beyond superlatives ! Merci beaucoup , Jean Do !

cafegrrl Jun 09, 2011

This book blew me away. Upon finishing it, I started telling everyone I knew that they HAD to read it. Knowing the words I was reading on the page came from Bauby's mind, trapped inside his paralyzed body... and that he had dictated each word by blinking his left eyelid.... wow.

ksoles May 19, 2011

To create this tremendously affecting memoir, Jean-Dominique Bauby used the only tool available to him: his left eye. The 43-year-old editor-in-chief of Elle France suffered a rare stroke to the brain stem but, rather than accept his "locked in" syndrome as a death sentence, Bauby employed his imagination to journey to exotic places, serve himself gourmet meals and compose a poignant, unforgettable novel. Tragically, he died just two days after the release of the French publication but he certainly left a legacy behind.

Algonquin_Lisa Mar 14, 2011

Heart-breaking, but at the same time uplifting. Jean-Dominique Bauby had an amazing will to survive in order to tell his story. Inspirational. It will make you stop and think how little problems we face in everyday life are so little compared to the suffering of others.


Add Age Suitability
Oct 11, 2017

mom2niamh thinks this title is suitable for between the ages of 16 and 99


Add a Summary

There are no summaries for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.


Add a Quote

There are no quotes for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number


Subject Headings


Find it at DBRL

To Top