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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

‘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

Reviews

Bola's insightful, intimate and lyrical work has been entrancing readers... Reminiscent of Paul Beatty and Ralph Ellison
The Bookseller
A beautiful, absorbing read. By turns searing and quietly devastating
Irenosen Okojie
This book is a bold work with a broad scope, bravely tackling masculinity, hopelessness and despair with force and directness
Okechukwu Nzelu
I loved this book - I lost my whole day reading - just couldn't bear to put it down!
NetGalley Reviewer
Narrated with haunting lyricism, The Selfless Act of Breathing is an intimate journey through the darkest of human impulses to the gleaming flickers of love and radical hope
Susan Abulhawa, Palestine Book Award-winning author of Against the Loveless World
While this book isn't necessarily a light read, it does point to the limits of travel - a new setting doesn't erase old problems, and in some cases, it may create new ones
Independent, Best Travel Story
In this wonderfully tender novel about masculinity and mental health, about being lost and finding yourself again, Bola's vulnerable delicate writing conveys so much truth and heart about how we are now, how closed we are, how much goes unsaid and the quiet pain in our hearts
Nikesh Shukla
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
The Selfless Act of Breathing feels existential and urgent as a millennial Mrs. Dalloway for a Black man who must straddle two worlds, two cultures, and two timelines, deciding where--and if--he wants to live. With prose as intimate as a private diary, as lush as spoken-word poetry, JJ Bola has artfully rendered this portrait of depression at once achingly empathetic and remarkably insightful
Afia Atakora, American Historian Prize-winning author of Conjure Women
I knew from the opening, that this book was going to break my heart. The Selfless Act of Breathing left me breathless. It is beautifully tender. I was gripped right from the opening. The structure pacing, description, narration, and voice make this book a Masterclass in empathy. It is moving with tension multi layered like a symphony. The Selfless Act of Breathing is immersive and reflective; challenging what we might think mental health crisis looks like and who has them
Yvonne Battle-Felton
In a world that makes it difficult for many of us to articulate our suffering, The Selfless Act of Breathing is a necessary invitation to scream when we feel like screaming, cry when we feel like crying, and prioritize our own often-neglected needs for love. JJ Bola crafted a soul-shifting novel that will let millions know it's okay to not be okay, and that the one of the most rewarding, and healing, places we can travel is into ourselves. The unwavering courage and care that Bola demonstrates with this work is to be revered
Mateo Askaripour