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September 2014
01
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September 2014
01

They eat the dark, who only stand and breathe.

 - Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
September 2014
01

REVIEW: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

There are rare books that I find difficult to summarize and evaluate, books that are so beautifully and painstakingly written that they deserve to be in a class unto themselves. Jean-Dominique Bauby’s wry masterpiece and memoir, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, is such a book, if not the definition of this class.

Bauby was the prestigious editor of Elle magazine when he suffered a life-altering stroke, one that shuttered every function in his body except that of his heart to beat, his blood to flow, and his left eyelid to close. Locked up in his thoughts and a rudimentary communication system, wherein every friend, nurse, and relative was forced to spell the French alphabet in order to help Bauby spell out words and phrases, the young man struggles to find purpose and joy – not only in life itself, but in the act of living.

Bauby’s is a sad story. Every chapter is laced with melancholy. I stopped many times in the middle of passages to marvel at the construction of this book. Bound to a willing assistant, Bauby formulated each sentence in his mind, then waited for the young woman to list the letters of the alphabet over and over and over again. When she arrived at the letter he needed, he would blink his eyelid. I sometimes wondered if perhaps, due to some tick or irritation, he accidentally blinked when he didn’t mean to, muddling the word and the heart of his message.

As you might imagine, this is a brief book, but no less rich in meaning and beauty than if it contained another 20,000 words. Confined to a bed, to a wheelchair, to a room, to a corridor, Bauby fishes in his imagination for the streets of Budapest and Tokyo. He fantasizes about killing the more thoughtless attendants who help him perform the most basic bodily functions. He pines for conversations laced with sarcasm. He dreams of answering his children when they call on the phone. He is still human, after all, still with the same undying wit, the same niggling irritations, the same aspirations and desires as before.

Jean-Dominique Bauby lived to see the first ten days of his book’s publication. He passed away in 1997 due to a sudden bout of pneumonia. Yet his memoir lives on with so much brightness, so much hope, that I find it easy to believe that somewhere, the relentless spirit of this man is walking, and sparring, and rejoicing.

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You can purchase a copy of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby at the Book Depository here. Seattle Books is a proud affiliate of the Book Depository and has committed 100% of proceeds from book sales to blog giveaways and site maintenance. All thoughts expressed above are the blogger’s and are not endorsed or solicited by the Book Depository.

September 2014
01
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August 2014
31

God, how we get our fingers in each other’s clay. That’s friendship, each playing the potter to see what shapes we can make of the other.

 - Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
August 2014
31
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August 2014
31

I need to feel strongly, to love and admire, just as desperately as I need to breathe.

 - The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby
August 2014
31
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August 2014
30

Today it seems to me that my whole life was nothing but a string of those small near misses: a race whose result we know beforehand but in which we fail to bet on the winner.

 - The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby
August 2014
30

REVIEW: Maus

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In 1978, American cartoonist Art Spiegelman sat down with his father Vladek to chronicle the 72-year-old’s memories of the Holocaust. Out of many long, weary conversations came Maus, I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History and Maus, II: And Here My Troubles Began, a set of graphic novels about World War II that depicts Jews as mice, Germans as cats, Poles as pigs, and Americans as dogs.

Much has been written about the creativity of Spiegelman’s artwork, and the symbolism of the mice and cat interactions was not lost on me. While it is an arresting way to frame the story, it is hardly the most unorthodox or stirring component of the series.

Spiegelman structures his novels in a very casual way, alternating between scenes in 1937 Poland and present-day interactions with his wife Francoise, his father, and his father’s second wife, Mala. He holds little back from the audience, venting his frustrations when his father tries to exchange a box of half-eaten cereal at the grocery store, or when he refuses to buy his wife new clothes, insisting that she make good use of his dead wife’s wardrobe. The misunderstandings between the two are constant. Art cannot comprehend his father’s miserly attitudes, while Vladek has trouble relating to a son who wants to preserve his parents’ painful legacy. At the heart of the story is this observation by Art:

“No matter what I accomplish, it doesn’t seem like much compared to surviving Auschwitz.”

Although the novels primarily center around Vladek’s story, they also pull two other survivors into focus: Vladek’s first wife, Anja, and his second wife, Mala. Anja was by Vladek’s side during much of the war and suffered through harrowing experiences in hiding and in the concentration camps. In 1968, she committed suicide.

Mala, by contrast, is the most well-adjusted of the three survivors, but even she cannot withstand the force of Vladek’s suffering. As she attempts to build a safe and happy life for herself after the horrors of the war, Vladek’s constant insensitivity tears at her. It is to Art’s detriment that while he mourns the loss of his mother’s journals about the Holocaust, he does not bother engaging Mala and listening to the stories that she carries within her.

What struck me most in this book, though, was how far-reaching the tentacles of Nazi brutality were. It becomes clear that Vladek is a shell of the buoyant, hard-working man he used to be, and is often shown to be stubborn, illogical, insensitive, passive-aggressive, and racist in his post-war interactions. Despite the clever schemes that helped him evade the grasp of Nazi Germany, he has not managed to escape the toll it took on his physical and mental health. The strength of his memory is called into question several times, leaving me wondering just how much of his tale is true. In equal measure, it is important to remember that these books are written from Art’s perspective and come with a significant amount of unresolved hurt and emotional baggage. It is impossible for us as readers to know the whole truth.

With all of the caveats listed above, Spiegelman’s story is still a very important one. Take it for what it is: an imperfect yet powerful testimony to the resilient and courageous spirit of a survivor.

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You can purchase a copy of Maus, I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History and Maus, II: And Here My Troubles Began by Art Spiegelman at the Book Depository. Seattle Books is a proud affiliate of the Book Depository and has committed 100% of proceeds from book sales to blog giveaways and site maintenance. All thoughts expressed above are the blogger’s and are not endorsed or solicited by the Book Depository.

#books   #book review   #Maus   #Maus I   #Maus II   #Art Spiegelman