When Breath Becomes Air – A Review

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Title: When Breath Becomes Air

Author: Paul Kalanithi

Genre: Non-Fiction / Memoir

Pages: 200

Rating: ★★★★★

Short Review: A devastating read that breaks your heart, makes you cry but also helps you find your purpose in life.

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Synopsis

‘Finishing this book and then forgetting about it is simply not an option… Unmissable’ New York Times

For readers of Atul Gawande, Andrew Solomon, and Anne Lamott, a profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir by a young neurosurgeon faced with a terminal cancer diagnosis who attempts to answer the question What makes a life worth living? 

At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, the next he was a patient struggling to live.

When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a medical student asking what makes a virtuous and meaningful life into a neurosurgeon working in the core of human identity – the brain – and finally into a patient and a new father.

What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when life is catastrophically interrupted? What does it mean to have a child as your own life fades away?

Paul Kalanithi died while working on this profoundly moving book, yet his words live on as a guide to us all. When Breath Becomes Air is a life-affirming reflection on facing our mortality and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a gifted writer who became both.

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Quoting When Breath Becomes Air

“You can’t ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving.” 

“There is a moment, a cusp when the sum of gathered experience is worn down by the details of living. We are never so wise as when we live in this moment.” 

“What makes life meaningful enough to go on living?” 

“Death may be a one-time event but living with a terminal illness is a process.” 

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My Review

I tried my best to be unbiased when reviewing this book but somehow the tragic incident with the author made it all the more beautiful. Don’t get me wrong, death is not beautiful but the fact that someone’s life, even when short-lived gave so much to this world is. That a person, despite the odds achieved part of his dream and became who he always aspired to be.

When breath becomes air is written by Paul himself as he discovers and fights cancer. A surgeon about to graduate is paused midway planning his entire life due to a disease and he pens it all down, his thoughts and relationships and most importantly his aspirations on the face of mortality. While reading this book, I realized how it’s never too late to follow your dreams, that no matter the odds there’s always a chance. I also look at death now as a motivator, only if we thought we don’t have time we’d fit it all in a day.

I grieve for his wife to have to part with the love of her life and his child who’d never get to know the talented surgeon, the brilliant writer, the devoted father but above all a beautiful human being. The way Paul wrote made me travel his journey with him, I sobbed with every x-ray and smiled on every tiny achievement,  I’m glad that during his last moments he was at peace, glad that he got to publish at least one book. Today we all remember him not for the accomplished surgeon that he was, but the beautiful writer that he remains.

I recommend everyone to read it, you won’t love it at all but I guess we all need a reality check every now and then, maybe this could be yours.May you find your calling.

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Check it out on Goodreads!

Buy it from Book Depository for US$9.12

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