The Selfless Act of Breathing by JJ Bola
JJ Bola's new book The Selfless Act of Breathing is a novel about one man’s loss and the ramifications it causes from childhood into adulthood
The Selfless Act of Breathing is a novel about one man’s loss and the ramifications it causes from childhood into adulthood. Its set-up is quick: with $9,021 in his savings account, Michael will journey across the United States until he runs out of money and then he will kill himself.
JJ Bola splits Michael’s journey into past and present, allowing Michael to narrate the events that led him to quit his teaching job and set off for the United States. In turn, we follow Michael’s present moves as narrated in the third person. In London, Michael is fighting a losing battle to protect his students from a life of street violence. Elsewhere in his life, he is both counsellor and confidante for friends and family, but those closest to him don’t realise the deep seeded anguish he harbours.
Bola often draws on poetic qualities that make his prose vibrant and colourful, but just as Michael closes himself off from loved ones, it also feels as if he is keeping the reader at bay, never really allowing us to fully comprehend the source of his pain. Despite the novel’s serious subject matter, it is often difficult to empathise with Michael, who at times feels one dimensional. Although the reader never truly learns of his past, it is around his students that Michael’s sadness and joy feel most authentic and affecting.