The Selfless Act of Breathing

J. J. Bola


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Little, Brown Book Group
30 September 2021
ISBN: 9780349702070
304 pages

From the publisher

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 fathers' 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.

What people are saying about The Selfless Act of Breathing:

'Well, wow. The writing in this book was so lyrical and beautiful... I really couldn't put this book down and finished it in two days... The last page had me on the verge of tears.' NetGalley Reviewer

'I knew from the opening that this book was going to break my heart. Breathless and gripping, it is a masterclass in empathy.' Yvonne Battle-Felton

'Absolutely stunning.' Elizabeth Day

'I loved this book - I lost my whole day reading - just couldn't bear to put it down!' NetGalley Reviewer

'Wonderfully tender... Bola's vulnerable, delicate writing conveys so much truth and heart about the quiet pain in our hearts.' Nikesh Shukla

'A bold work with a broad scope, bravely tackling masculinity, hopelessness and despair with force and directness.' Okechukwu Nzelu

'A beautiful, absorbing read. By turns searing and quietly devastating.' Irenosen Okojie

'Providing a spark of hope.' Observer

'Narrated with haunting lyricism... An intimate journey through the darkest of human impulses to the gleaming flickers of love and radical hope.' Susan Abulhawa

'Bola's insightful, intimate and lyrical work has been entrancing readers... Reminiscent of Paul Beatty and Ralph Ellison.' The Bookseller