WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR is the gripping memoir by Dr. Paul Kalanithi, a young neurosurgeon who found out at age 35 that he had terminal lung cancer, and died less than two years later from the disease.
Kalanithi wrote this book through the short months during which he fought the disease, trying to reconcile his life as a physician, and more importantly, as a man. The pages are eloquent and thought-provoking, and give readers a glimpse into the life of a busy neurosurgeon just starting out. We follow him through the diagnosis, to treatment, to bigger life decisions (like deciding whether or not to father a child when he understood he would not be there to parent), to the progression of his disease, and finally, death. Kalanithi died before this book was published, but he made sure that his wife and family would see that it made it to the world as an important document of his life, as well as inspiration to others.
In the afterward, his wife gives us a glimpse into some of the more heart-wrenching moments of the progression of the disease and how it impacted their lives. One gets the feeling that Kalanithi was able to stay quite clinical and detached when dealing with his cancer because of his experience as a neurosurgeon, while his wife was not able to detach herself as easily. Both perspectives give the reader a more rounded perspective.
This wasn’t a particularly sad book, which came as a bit of a surprise, considering the themes. After reading just a few chapters, it becomes obvious that books were always something the author valued, and the prose takes on the very lyrical tones of his favourite poets and classical authors. He delves into the concepts of death by pursuing life, and leaves the reader feeling his strength and determination throughout.
There are a few holds on this book at the library already, but feel free to pop onto the catalog and place a hold for yourself. It is a short book, and might be an interesting read for book clubs or those in the medical profession. Don’t forget the tissues, however. You’ll need them.