I read several reviews of this memoir and was possessed with an incessant desire to read it. Now, I have developed a problem in the recent years: I have lost the ability to buy books without a reason. May be it is because of the guilt from the number of unread books on my bookshelf and kindle. So I spent a few days wondering if I should buy this book …and then I got a good excuse to buy it.
I realized I should get TH a gift for his birthday and what could be a better gift than a book? I ignored the voice in the back of my mind telling that this might not be the best book as a birthday gift. Anyway I went ahead and ordered it. I read the book within days of its arrival and I have extracted a promise from TH that he will read it one day. To be frank, I do not see him reading soon.
Paul was passionate about literature and pursued it with all will and passion. Then he realized that that literature does touch souls in many ways, but not to the depth what he yearns. That yearning brought him to the steps of a medical college and there he was for next few years of his life.
I wonder about the amount of courage and conviction it takes to leave the career path after years of hard work? Paul would have been looking forward to years of helping people to fulfill his life’s desire of helping people when he was diagnosed with cancer.
Terminal disease is something that is difficult to deal with. As a doctor, Paul was aware of his condition and how fast can it deteriorate. After treatment, there occurred a time when he could back to his medical practice,go back to neurosurgery and work like any other doctor in his profession. Soon his cancer relapsed, bringing an end to his medical career and brought along the realization that there might not be many days left for him.
I admire the courage Paul had to write down this memoir when he realized he was dying and did it when he was undergoing harsh treatment. I loved reading his thoughts about life and his career path. The writing may not be of great literary quality and the prose has gone a bit overboard at few places. But there is something honest about his writing that kept me glued to the book. I confess that I just skipped through some of the prose, after all I wanted to know what happened after that.
What surprised me the most about his life is their decision to have a baby, something unusual when one of the couple is having a terminal disease. After all, the baby will have to grow up without one of them. In the end I loved reading about the girl’s birth and the amount of joy she brought to Paul’s last days.
The epilogue by his wife Lucy Kalanithi brings a good closure to the book. A good round of editing would have been good for the overall writing quality of the book, but I liked that much of it was as how Paul wrote it.
When Breathe Becomes Air may not contain the best writing, but it is still worth every minute of reading for the experience. Do give it a try even if it may make you cry.
Note: Do search for Paul Kalanithi on youtube and watch some videos made on him. Here is one of them: Dying Doctor’s Memoir Teaches About Life And Loss