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Debra Hamel is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.


Books by Debra Hamel:

THE BATTLE OF ARGINUSAE :
VICTORY AT SEA AND ITS TRAGIC AFTERMATH IN THE FINAL YEARS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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Kindle | paperback (UK)

KILLING ERATOSTHENES:
A TRUE CRIME STORY
FROM ANCIENT ATHENS
By Debra Hamel


Kindle | paperback (US)
Kindle | paperback (UK)

READING HERODOTUS:
A GUIDED TOUR THROUGH THE WILD BOARS, DANCING SUITORS, AND CRAZY TYRANTS OF THE HISTORY
By Debra Hamel


paperback | Kindle | hardcover (US)
paperback | hardcover (UK)

THE MUTILATION OF THE HERMS:
UNPACKING AN ANCIENT MYSTERY
By Debra Hamel


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Kindle | paperback (UK)

TRYING NEAIRA:
THE TRUE STORY OF A COURTESAN'S SCANDALOUS LIFE IN ANCIENT GREECE
By Debra Hamel


paperback | hardcover (US)
paperback | hardcover (UK)

SOCRATES AT WAR:
THE MILITARY HEROICS OF AN ICONIC INTELLECTUAL
By Debra Hamel


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ANCIENT GREEKS IN DRAG:
THE LIBERATION OF THEBES AND OTHER ACTS OF HEROIC TRANSVESTISM
By Debra Hamel


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IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY TWEET:
FIVE HUNDRED 1ST LINES IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
By Debra Hamel


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Kindle | paperback (UK)

PRISONERS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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Bauby, Jean-Dominique: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

  Amazon  

4.5 stars

On December 8th, 1995, Jean-Dominique Bauby, the forty-three-year-old editor-in-chief of the French Elle, suffered a massive stroke that damaged his brain stem and left him a quadriplegic. Bauby could no longer speak, but his intellect remained intact, trapped inside the "diving bell" of his body. He could shake his head and blink his left eye, and he was able to spell out complex thoughts by blinking when an interlocutor, running a finger across an alphabet board, pointed to the correct letter. During the summer of 1996 Bauby wrote a memoir of his incapacitation, "dictating" by eye blink, letter by letter, the prose he had composed mentally. Bauby writes about his life as a quadriplegic: the searing moment when he realized what everyone else around him already knew, that he wasn't going to regain his speech or mobility; his stints in physical therapy and speech therapy; the indignations of being helpless. He is not self-pitying, but very much aware of the horror of his situation and of what is going on around him.

"And then one afternoon...an unknown face interposed itself between us. Reflected in the glass 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 the existence of a jellyfish, 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 blow from fate, we decide to treat it all as a joke."

Bauby juxtaposes reminiscences from his previous life--much of it spent traveling the world--with descriptions of the hospital, Berck-sur-Mer, which has become his universe. And he describes the phone calls he receives from friends and family--his ninety-two year old father, whose voice quivers on the phone, his eight-year-old daughter telling him about her pony. He can't respond. Of course, it's his interactions with his two children that are most heart-breaking:

"As soon as we slow down, CĂ©leste cradles my head in her bare arms, covers my forehead with noisy kisses, and says over and over, 'You're my dad, you're my dad,' as if in incantation."

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is a short book which, for all its author's labors in dictating it, won't take you more than a couple hours to read. But it's a remarkable book.

Bauby died on March 8th, 1997, two days after the book's publication in France.

Comments

1.

Even the review and quotations were almost enough to make me teary. This would be a tough book to read!

2.

This definitely seems like an emotional read, but I'm interested. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

3.

Yeah, that line about the daughter was difficult to take.

4.

I remember when this book came out, there was a lot of publicity and discussion of it on the radio. I meant to read it then and some how didn't get round to it. Thanks fro bringing it back to mind.

5.

If you wind up reading it, Ann, let us know what you think.

I do have to get off these sad books, though....

6.

I've read this one - and yes, I agree, absolutely heartbreaking and quite an incredible feat. I imagined him 'writing' it with his blinks and how much patience that must have taken on the part of the transcriber- and how utterly tragic to think of him 'locked in' like that. I think I heard there's going to be a film.

7.

I've read this one - and yes, I agree, absolutely heartbreaking and quite an incredible feat. I imagined him 'writing' it with his blinks and how much patience that must have taken on the part of the transcriber- and how utterly tragic to think of him 'locked in' like that. I think I heard there's going to be a film.

8.

I think there already was a movie--something I read somewhere in the last few days suggested as much. But I don't know anything about it.

What's so strange is that you don't assume someone who is immobile has a rich, imaginative life. And yet....

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