Michael decides to flee to America and end his life once all his savings run out. JJ Bola's second novel is a story of millennial existential angst told through the eyes of a young Londoner who seems to have it all - a promising future, a solid career, strong friendships, a blossoming love story - but it's the unbearable weight of life that leads him to decide to take his own.
As he grapples with issues bigger than him - political conflict, environmental desecration, police brutality - Michael seeks to find his place within a world that is complicated and unwelcoming.
Although he finds solace in the people that surround him, he alone must decide if his life is worth living.
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Average rating from 11 members
I love the title: The Selfless Act of Breathing. Breathing is something we do unconsciously. And it’s important to do so because if we stop breathing we die. It’s as simple as that. But what if we don’t want to breath anymore? Michael is a Congolese British teacher and seems to have it all: friends, a love interest, a wonderful job. But he’s tired all the time and looks up to everything. He becomes depressed, and decides to flee to America after a loss, wanting to end his life once his savings run out. The writing of this heartfelt story is engaging and lyrical, almost like prose. I could quote so many beautiful sentences, all giving food for thought. Alternating between present and past, The Selfless Act of Breathing slowly reveals more and more about Michael’s depression. By using present tense, third person in the present and past tense, first person in the past, the story is active and never boring. This book is not only about depression and wanting to die. It’s also about being born in another country, about belonging, about loneliness, about being Black, about losing loved ones, about masculinity, and finally about hope. Although the themes are heavy, and the writing is lyrical, this story is very easy readable. I read it in a couple of sittings. Highly recommended! Publication on Goodreads: 19 October 2021
It's quite hard to quantify this book. For one, I am not black, secondly I am not male so this could potentially have been meaningless to me. I am also a good deal older than the protagonist. However, I really did find myself connecting and empathising with Michael who takes his life savings, goes to the USA to blow it all and at the end kill himself. Maybe it was the places he chose in the US that resonated. They are all places I know. The poet reading I particularly loved. We can all feel very lost and not know our way. Age, gender, colour doesn't matter in this sense. Michael's journey was not very cheerful it has to be said but J.J. Bola created a painting in a book that helped us see depression and the effect it has and also to discuss this feeling of loss, confusion, fear and trepidation a lot of us have along the way and try and make some sense of it all. Two minor irks. Inconsistent use of US/UK spellings in the book (please pick UK all the way through but US for the US bits I could cope with) The text in some places was incredibly faint and hard to read. I'm not sure how I wanted the book to end but the ending is a good one. This book will stay with me for a long time
An emotional read that will stay with me. A steady pace, nothing slow and nothing rushed. Perfect! I loved this book – I lost my whole day reading – just couldn't bare to put it down!
Can't wait for more people to read this book. It's so brutally honest and nuanced. I need more books like this
I really enjoyed this book and it gave me a well needed lift to my day. The insight and humour spoke volumes about the experiences and challenges that we were guided through as the audience. I am very glad I read this book and would highly recommend..
Jj bola - the selfless act of breathing Following the concise, thoughtful and prescient ‘Mask Off’, JJ Bola continues to probe blackness, masculinities and mental health in the selfless act of breathing. Bola employs a dual timeline structure to tell the story of Michael, a teacher from an unnamed area of London who struggles to cope with the relentless pressures of his life, and makes the decision to withdraw all his savings, flee to America, and spend it all before committing suicide. The way Bola utilises male characters throughout the novel to dissect the inconsistencies, fragility and damage of toxic masculinities is wonderful, though it could be argued that the novel is longer than it needs to be.