Review: When breath becomes air

At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. And just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a naïve medical student “possessed,” as he wrote, “by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life” into a neurosurgeon at Stanford working in the brain, the most critical place for human identity, and finally into a patient and new father confronting his own mortality.

What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, no longer a ladder toward your goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present? What does it mean to have a child, to nurture a new life as another fades away? These are some of the questions Kalanithi wrestles with in this profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir.

Paul Kalanithi died in March 2015, while working on this book, yet his words live on as a guide and a gift to us all. “I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality, in a sense, had changed nothing and everything,” he wrote. “Seven words from Samuel Beckett began to repeat in my head: ‘I can’t go on. I’ll go on.’” When Breath Becomes Air is an unforgettable, life-affirming reflection on the challenge of facing death and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a brilliant writer who became both.


Amazon Goodreads

Author: Paul Kalanithi
Pages: 208 (Kindle edition)
Published: January 12, 2016

I know this book was published over a year ago and there has been a lot of talk about it but for some reason I just kept delaying reading it. I read a lot of reviews and it was probably going to be a good book but it felt like I had to have that special moment to it.

The book lets us into Paul’s mind as he looks back on his life and  faces death. It got me thinking about my own mortality which is always astonishing achievement for a book. I’m fairly young, so there’s not been that many times in my life that I’ve had to face the irreversibility of death.

Paul was an English major which explains his ability to write such eloquent words and string them up together as sentences in such a beautiful way. The pace of the book is peaceful, some could say almost slow, but I never got bored. Paul’s thoughts of life and death got my eyes glued on the screen of my Kindle, anxiously turning every page to absorb his every word.

From the start you know what is going to happen to Paul, which is why I think you need a certain mindset to read this. But even though the book is touching, and I was crying like a lunatic at the end, my overall mood was good after finishing it. I was in peace with Paul’s death, it almost felt like remembering a good friend who has passed away but enough time has gone by so you don’t remember the grief so much anymore, just the good times you had together.

I highly recommend this book for everyone! But warning, this will tug your heartstrings like no other, so I would stay clear of this book in public places. Unless you have nothing against crying like a baby in public.


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