When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi

breathbecomesairI’ve seen this book referenced by a lot of people and was glad to finally have a chance to pick it up. It’s a short but powerful read, published posthumously, so you know going in there’s going to be no happy ending.

Paul Kalanithi was an extremely successful young doctor, finishing a residency in neurosurgery and looking forward to a brilliant career, when he got the news that he had cancer. His career, his marriage, and most importantly his whole view of who he is and what his life is about are shaken by the news. Well, they would be for anyone, wouldn’t they? Getting cancer in your mid-thirties is disruptive to any life. But if you’ve based your whole life around training for a career that takes years and years of exhausting preparation, and you’re just at the cusp of finishing that preparation and ready to reap the rewards when you’re diagnosed — then that’s going to lead to some deep soul-searching.

That’s what Kalanathi does in this book, and it helps that he considered a career as a writer and studied English literature before specializing in neurosurgery, because he tells his story well. An afterword by his wife brings the story up to and beyond his death. It may be trite to say that reading someone’s cancer memoir delivers the message that you should live every day to the fullest, but this one does a good job of making that potentially tired message come alive.

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Filed under Nonfiction -- memoir

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