Title: When Breath Becomes Air
Author: Paul Kalanithi
Release Date: January 12, 2016
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 making a living treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. Just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air, which features a Foreword by Dr. Abraham Verghese and an Epilogue by Kalanithi’s wife, Lucy, 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 young neurosurgeon at Stanford, guiding patients toward a deeper understanding of death and illness, and finally into a patient and a new father to a baby girl, 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 mortality and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a gifted writer who became both.
My Book and Snack
This is my honest review
Narrators: Sunil Malhotra, Cassandra Campbell
Random House Audio
Rating: 5 Stars ~ Excellent
An inspiring, moving, poignant, and profound memoir
How does one begin to make sense of everything after being diagnosed with cancer? I know from witnessing some of my close family and friends deal with cancer, facing death is truly devastating. When Breath Becomes Air is Paul Kalanithi’s heartfelt journey as a medical student, as a neurosurgeon at Stanford, and then as a cancer patient.
“As a doctor, you have a sense of what it’s like to be sick, but until you’ve gone through it yourself, you don’t really know.”
I found this to be an incredibly moving read. Dr. Kalanithi’s memoir offers the perspective of both doctor and patient and of the doctor/patient relationship. Being a neurosurgeon, he knew exactly what was coming when he was diagnosed with cancer. It still didn’t make things easy for him or his family. Dr. Kalanithi was a man with a brilliant mind who had a zest for learning and a love for literature. I was engaged with reading how he faced death head on.
A dear friend recommended this book to me while we were taking one of our long walks, chatting about books and life. I had read a few cancer memoirs before, and I always appreciate each person’s unique situation and viewpoint. Dr. Kalanithi’s writing is deeply poignant and will make you think, if you haven’t already, about death and dying and your own mortality. Paul Kalanithi died in March 2015, and his wife’s words in the epilogue will make you cry. Thank you to Paul and Lucy for sharing your touching and memorable story with the world.
The When Breath Becomes Air audiobook is narrated by Sunil Malhotra with the epilogue being read by Cassandra Campbell. Both narrators deliver clear readings with good pacing. Having listened to and enjoying one of Sunil Malhotra’s narrations before, I was delighted to learn that he was the main narrator for this book. Despite the sad tone, listening to this audiobook continued to be an enlightening experience.