#BookReview: When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi

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Genre: Memoir

Pages: 256

Available in: Hardback. Paperback. E-book format

The Plot:

A young and brilliant Neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi, on the threshold of a new life and career finds out he has Stage 4 Lung Cancer. A news which comes as a rude shock to him and his family. He decides to fight the disease and almost does, till it rears its ugly head again. Cancer wins round two.

Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed at the age of 36. He passed away a little before his 38th birthday. A promising life and future was cut short as the doctor became a patient and grappled with cancer, squeezing every precious moment out of life from his rapidly dwindling one. When he found out he was dying, Kalanithi decided to pen down his memoirs and we have this book. The book came to life even as his came to an end. Written from hospital beds and during long, lonely nights, it is a heart-breaking thought that this book remains incomplete, much like his Paul Kalanithi’s life.

My Thoughts:

Firstly, this is not a ‘sad’ book. If you haven’t read it yet don’t let the presumption, that a book about disease and dying must be sad, stop you from picking it up.

Paul Kalanithi was a Neurosurgeon and someone who always wanted to be a Writer. This book is proof that while he must have been brilliant as a doctor, he might as well have been a brilliant writer, if he had chosen to pursue it.

When Breath Becomes Air is an exquisitely written book. The writing is almost delicate, so much so that it makes one want to read it with care. Soaking in every word, pausing ever so often to think about a phrase as you imbibe it.

With all due respect, as the book is incomplete as Kalanithi succumbed to Cancer before he could finish it, the beautiful writing is what helped make reading a better experience. Parts of the book are memorable, like Paul’s note to his baby daughter, while the medical jargon and Operation Room talk and experiences are insipid. I didn’t think the book was preachy, nor was it profound and nor did it speak to me. I was left no wiser, about human life or the dreaded visitor called Death, after I read this book. Maybe the book would have taken a different turn if it was complete? Then again, maybe not.

My favourite parts in the book were about those about Kalanithi’s personal life. More so his relationship with his wife, Lucy. Lucy and Paul were going through a rough patch in their marriage when he was diagnosed. Ironically, a terminal disease infused new life into their marriage.

With every chapter I read my thoughts would go back to Lucy, I kept wondering what she may have gone through, caring for and loving a husband who had limited time. I wondered how she may have coped. Her afterword in the end answered all my questions Her emotions shared with us through words are so honest and so full of love for her husband and respect for their relationship that you can’t help but be moved by them.

Paul Kalanithi may no longer exist physically but he will live on, in the gratitude of the patients he saved as a doctor and through the words of his book. Click To Tweet

It is unfortunate that death gave Paul Kalanithi everything he wanted out of life.

P:S: Reviewing a book written by an author who is no more is a strange feeling. The sadness felt at a young life snuffed out too soon would have been felt even if this book wasn’t written and I had read about Paul Kalanithi in a newspaper or seen it on the news. If I let the sympathy I felt influence my review, then what is the point of writing one.

3 stars to When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

My rating chart;

*Use it as a doorstop.
**Read it if you have nothing better to do.
***You will like it if you like this particular genre.
****Must read!
*****What! You haven’t read it YET?!

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