Sunday, May 18, 2008

'The Diving Bell And The Butterfly' ...

I saw this movie last week and knew immediately that I wanted to read the book.

Normally, it's anti-climactic to read a book once you've seen its film adaptation. But this was no ordinary film, no ordinary story.

I try not to know anything about a film before I see it. I don't read reviews. Sometimes, it's hard to avoid the trailers on TV, but this film was enough of an art piece that only those who sought it saw it.

Ciarán recommended it when I saw him in New York. Netflix delivered. In the opening moments, I thought about turning it off. But I persevered. To great reward.

I thought about buying the book, but I buy so many books. No, this time, I decided to get it from the library. It had to be ordered from another branch. I checked it out late on the last day it would be available to me, before it would be sent back to the other branch. I almost missed it.

I set the book on my bedside table, atop the book I've been reading since February, atop my latest purchase from Amazon atop the book I've been reading since February.

Today, I picked it up, just to read the first page, just to see if I was in the mood to read.

I proceeded to read half the book, and I've just finished the other half. I will return this copy to the library and buy a copy after all.

It is an exquisite book. And I am mindful that it is translated from the French. I'm sure it is even more exquisite in its native voice.

For those who don't know, Jean-Dominique Bauby, the editor-in-chief of French Elle, suffered a cerebrovascular accident, known commonly as a massive stroke, at the age of 43 that left him mentally alert but paralyzed and unable to communicate conventionally, a condition known as "locked-in syndrome." Able to blink his left eye, he learned to communicate through a system, a "code," devised with a therapist. She began reciting the French alphabet, the characters presented from most-used to least. Bauby blinked when his chosen letter was recited. In this way, he was able to convey words, then sentences, and eventually, "The Diving Bell and The Butterfly."

My copy is 132 pages. I read the entire book in about an hour, wondering as I read if the time it took me to read his entire book was the time it took him to dictate a paragraph? A page?

In total, it took two months to dictate the book.

In every book I read, I hope for a hidden gem, a perfect sentence that inspires awe and envy. This book offers many such moments. Among my favorites:

"In that hothouse atmosphere, criminal records bloomed like orchids all around us."

"Capturing the moment, these small slices of life, these small gusts of happiness, move me more deeply than all the rest."

... these small gusts of happiness. I gasped when I read that.

And my most favorite:

"Having turned down the hideous jogging suit provided by the hospital, I am now attired as I was in my student days. Like the bath, my old clothes could easily bring back poignant, painful memories. But I see in the clothing a symbol of continuing life. And proof that I still want to be myself. If I must drool, I may as well drool on cashmere."


Anonymous Anonymous 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!

2:44 AM  

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