The Selfless Act Of Breathing – A sensitive yet powerful story
‘Possessed by a daring turn of phrase and at times a beautifully powerful sense of personal poignancy… Should be pushed into the hands of friends accompanied by the question: do you feel this too?’ -Big Issue
A heartbreaking, lyrical story for all of those who have fantasised about escaping their daily lives and starting over.
Michael Kabongo is a British-Congolese teacher living in London on the cusp of two identities. On paper, he seems to have it all – he’s loved by his students, popular with his colleagues, and enjoys the pride of his mother who emigrated from the Congo. But behind closed doors, he’s been struggling with the overwhelming sense that he can’t improve the injustices he sees – from his efforts to change the lives of his students, to his attempts to transcend the violence that marginalises young Black men around the world.
Then Michael suffers a devastating loss, and his life is thrown into a tailspin. As he struggles to find a way forward, memories of his father’s violent death, the weight of being a refugee, and an increasing sense of dread threaten everything he’s worked so hard to achieve.
Longing to escape the shadows in his mind and start anew, Michael decides to spontaneously pack up and go to America, the mythical ‘land of the free,’ where he imagines everything will be better, easier – a place where he can become someone new, someone without a past filled with pain. On this transformative journey, Michael travels from New York City to San Francisco, partying with new friends, sparking fleeting romances, and splurging on big adventures.
In the back of his mind, Michael has a plan: follow his dreams until the money in his bank account runs out, and then he will decide if his life is truly worth living…
Written in spellbinding prose, with Bola’s trademark, magnetic storytelling, The Selfless Act of Breathing is a heart-wrenching and deeply emotional novel about mental health, masculinity and the power of love.
Duffy’s Thoughts On The Selfless Act Of Breathing
It’s a little hard for me to review The Selfless Act Of Breathing. Not because it isn’t written well, the character of Michael is just perfect and the prose is haunting and beautiful. You can tell JJ Bola is a poet at heart. It’s hard because the character triggered the same anxious feelings, which thankfully have been fleeting for me, however, a much heavier burden for some people I have loved dearly in my life.
Author JJ Bola writes with complete empathy and sensitivity, and you can’t help but care for Michael from the get-go. You want him to be safe, and you want his savings to last forever. I found the themes of masculinity and mental health absorbing and the characters who Michael meets along the way are perfectly flawed.
It’s not the easiest of reads given that we have all gone through a second year of struggles and anxiety, so don’t expect an uplifting read here. However, if you are in a period of self-reflection, or have, or know someone who might be struggling with the same feelings, make sure The Selfless Act Of Breathing falls into their hands.
Looking for a quiet, sensitive read? Check out some of Duffy’s favourite reads