BOOK BLURBS: When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi


When Breath Becomes Air is a non-fiction autobiographical book written by Paul Kalanithi. It is a memoir about his life and illness, battling stage IV metastatic lung cancer.

In his last year of neurosurgical residency at Stanford University, Dr. Paul Kalanithi experiences negative changes in his health. Rapid weight loss, and severe back and chest pains begin to raise concern for him and his wife, Lucy. Paul worries that a possible cause for his symptoms is spinal cancer – unlikely for people in their thirties. However, when X-ray results in a routine medical check-up return looking just fine, his primary care physician and himself attribute the symptoms to aging and work overload. At thirty-six, Dr. Kalanithi had gained national prominence and become a respected member of the medical community.

Determined to finish the last months of his residency, he ignores whatever symptoms have not subsided. A few weeks later, the symptoms come back, stronger than before. Around this time, Paul and Lucy experience a rocky moment in their relationship when Lucy feels that Paul is not communicating with her. Visiting friends in New York, Paul is almost certain that he has cancer and says it out loud for the first time to his friend Mike. Returning home, upon landing in San Francisco, Paul receives a call from his doctor telling him that his lungs “look blurry.” When he arrives home with Lucy, both of them know what is happening. The next day, Paul checks in to the hospital and the room where he examined his patients, delivering good and bad news, becomes his own. With this event, the future that Paul had worked so hard for these past years vanishes before his eyes.

RATING: ♦♦♦♦♦ / 5


This is an autobiography and during this year, I’ve seen that many people read this book. A lot of people kept posting about this book and I finally gave in to my curiosity and read it, despite knowing that the ending was going to crush me, and it did. But even though it was an unfortunately sad ending, I am very glad that I actually read the book.

Most of the memoirs by doctors talk of their work experiences and here too, there were few moments where work related stuff were mentioned. Life works in different ways and this whole book is about the journey of how an amazing doctor, turned into a patient with an illness that had very little hope for cure, kept going. He kept fighting, and he didn’t stop living life just because he knew his life was going to become tough and end sooner than it should.

There is nothing much I can say. This is a brilliant book that is very much heart wrenching and the most heart breaking moment for me was that he couldn’t even complete this book and he knew that he wouldn’t be able to do so, and yet, he made sure that his wife would publish it after his passing, and she did so. This book is all about him, but only after you finish reading, you will realise that it was also about his wife, his family and everyone else that loved and cared for him, who had to continue with life even after he was gone.

Apart from the whole sadness aspect, there is also so much positivity in this book. The way his family had his back, the way his wife supported him, and most of all, the way he picked himself up despite the grave diagnosis and went about with his work until the last moment when he physically wasn’t capable of doing any more work. That alone spoke volumes about his passion for his profession.

This book is about one wonderful human being’s experience and no one can ever summarise a person’a experience into mere words. It’s a book that one should definitely read. Pain, bravery, courage, optimism, sacrifices, loss, little moments of joy, and much more can be found in the pages of this beautiful book.

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