When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

When Breath Becomes Air memoir
Image courtesy of Random House Publishing Group

Paul Kalanithi’s memoir When Breath Becomes Air left me feeling so full of hope and admiration for him as well as empty because such a young, talented man is now gone from us. But what makes this book a must read is his enduring love for literature and the inclusion of patient-doctor dynamics.

At 36, Paul discovers he has lung cancer(he was a nonsmoker). At this stage of diagnosis he has several things to ponder on. His new life with wife Lucy, the future of having children, should he continue residency- all of these thoughts we read.

We are in his head, his heart. He graduated from Stanford University with a BA and MA in English literature and so throughout the book he sprinkles timeless quotes from T.S. Eliot, or Shakespeare, and Walt-Whitman:

“What makes human life meaningful? I still felt literature provided the best account of the life of the mind, while neuroscience laid down the most elegant rules fo the brain.”(From When Breath Becomes Air, Kalanithi, P., 2016)

Throughout his account, Paul shows us how it can be rough vacillating between patient-doctor roles. He describes his first time cutting into a cadaver, the grueling hours of a brain surgeon, rude patients and tired, nonchalant doctors.

And then the moments when he had to don the medical gown and look up to doctors for answers, for support.

However, what makes this book golden syrup for the soul, what makes it a potential inclusion for literature in all academic spheres, is Kalanithi’s way with words. He faces death with literature in one hand and scalpel in the other, a warrior who stood brave and true and yet so young.

He passed on March 2015.

I will treasure his words and his hard work. Condolences to the Kalanithi family.

*Book received for free for my unbiased review from Netgalley

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