Discussion questions for the Las Vegas Non-Fiction Book Club
In 1995, Jean-Dominique Bauby was the editor-in-chief of French Elle, the father of two young children, 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.
Jean-Dominique Bauby died two days after the French publication of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly in March 1997.
1. Why do you think Bauby wrote this book?
2. How does the title relate to the book?
3. Do you think Bauby’s response to his situation represents the norm? Explain. What was the role of friends and family in forming his outlook? How do you think you might respond if you found yourself in his situation?
4. Twice Bauby is transported to Paris for medical consultations. His response to familiar surroundings differs significantly from the first trip to the second. Discuss this change.
5. Why do you think the other patients undergoing physical therapy turn away from Bauby when he looks their way while strapped to his incline board?
6. Medical personnel treat Bauby in a variety of ways—some merely come in and silently complete their tasks, ignoring Bauby, while others make a point of interacting with him. Discuss the various responses and why you think they occur.
7. Although Bauby has experienced a catastrophic and irreversible physical disability there is no discussion of assisted suicide. Why do you think this is the case?
8. What impact has Bauby’s story had on the way you think about people with
9. How does the author’s experience help you think about what it means to be
10. An award-winning film was recently released based on this book. If you’ve seen it, how does the movie compare to the book? Would you recommend this book (and/or film) to others? Why?