The Selfless Act of Breathing by J. J. Bola

The Selfless Act of Breathing is a powerful and emotional read.


Looking at Michael Kabongo, no one would guess the inner turmoil he is experiencing. On the surface, he seems like a friendly and charismatic fellow on the inside; however, he is more than a little depressed and quite philosophical.

He decides to give up his job as a teacher and embark on a trip to America until his savings run out. Once they are gone, he will end his life.

Told in dual timelines, the reader sees Michael’s everyday life before he quits his job, as well as his time in the US. The reader watches as he struggles to make emotional connections with people, has a string of flings, wantonly spends his money, and as he contemplates the meaning of life.

Review of The Selfless Act of Breathing

J. J. Bola’s flowery prose makes it abundantly clear that he is a poet. The writing style is lyrical and beautiful in its simplicity. The author explores a range of topics including, racism, prejudice, intersectional feminism, belonging, grief, feeling invisible, and familial and cultural expectations.

This novel was very close to a five-star read, but my eyes tend to glaze over when topics become overtly philosophical. However, others may get a lot out of the existential musings in this book. And I found that some of the characters were underdeveloped. Although, that may have been purposefully done to show how in his own head Michael was. I’d have enjoyed more background on the people in Michael’s life.

This book is rather depressing, so I’d recommend reading it when you’re in the right mindset. It’s not all bleak; it has its moments of hope. The ending made me bawl.

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Expected Publication: 15 February 2022

Thank you to Atria / Simon & Schuster Canada for providing an arc via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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