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  • Dialogue Books
  • Dialogue Books

The Selfless Act of Breathing

JJ Bola

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Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)

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

'Heartfelt and searing... Devastating and insightful... Readers will be swept up in the sheer beauty of Bola's writing.' The i

'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

'Absolutely stunning.' Elizabeth Day

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JJ Bola

JJ Bola is an established writer, poet and UNHCR Ambassador. His three poetry collections - Elevate (2012), Daughter of the Sun (2014), and WORD (2015) - were published in one collection, Refuge (2018), which was read out in the House of Commons during Refugee week in 2018.

He was one of Spread the Word's Flight Associates 2017 and a Kit de Waal Scholar for the Birkbeck University MA in Creative Writing.As a former refugee, JJ Bola was invited to the Davos Economic Forum 2018 and held a discussion with Cate Blanchett.

His debut novel, No Place to Call Home, was published in the UK in 2017, and in 2018 in North America. His non-fiction book Mask Off: Masculinity Redefined, which exposes masculinity as a socially conditioned performance, was published in the UK in 2019.

JJ speaks and performs both internationally and in the UK.

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