Review: The Selfless Act of Breathing

The Selfless Act of Breathing
The Selfless Act of Breathing by J.J. Bola
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“Like homes, we also need to be taken care of as much as we can; and to have something live inside us in order for us to live. But regardless, in the end, we eventually go back to nature, back to death, submerged by the will of the earth. And, in our most earnest moments, maybe we are all just homes, burning, and love is the water that saves us. And maybe, love is that someone who still sees, in all the burned down brokenness of our house, the beauty in us—the stories and memories that we hold inside, and restores us and makes us home.”

This is the story of Michael Kabongo, a teacher in London. We see him in two timelines: when his plane is landing in San Francisco where he’s arrived with a few thousand dollars left to his name and he is determined to end his life once he runs out of money and when he’s in London in the past so we can see what his life used to look like.

In both lives, he is sad, lonely and depressed. And the story definitely has the atmosphere of that loneliness and the gray haze of depression.

“Not everyone seeks love, some seek quiet, seek peace. I slowly distanced myself from those around me and returned into the quiet where I had been all along. Where I long to be.”

The writing in this novel is beautiful. The metaphors are vivid and they stay with you long after the story is finished. You can see them come alive and take root.

And yet. the character development isn’t as strong. It’s hard to feel connected to Michael. It’s hard to truly understand him. Maybe because he’s so depressed, there’s a lack of intensity in most anything he does, except for a few scenes, it’s hard to see him feeling his feelings and thus it’s hard to feel much as a reader.

I found this to be a quick read despite the sad subject matter and the metaphors will stay with me for a long time.

“Inside me there is a man who lives in an abandoned city, and he walks around looking for company; another life, another soul, someone to touch, someone to hold. The city is endless, it has no limits, nothing to differentiate where it would end, or begin. Every day, this man wakes up and walks. He walks until his feet are blackened and burning like charcoal, until his limbs collapse into themselves and he can walk no more. Then he falls and lies there to rest—this man has no home. The next day, he wakes and walks again, and again, and again. But each day, he walks a little less than the day before, each day he gets a little more tired. This man knows it, feels it, that it’s only a matter of time until he can walk no more, and his only desire is to lie wherever he finds himself and sleep eternally.”

with gratitude to netgalley and Atria Books for an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

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