Sunday, January 31, 2016

When Breath Becomes Air (by Paul Kalanithi)

For maybe the first time this year, I decided to read something not for either the Tournament of Books or the Read Harder Challenge. When Breath Becomes Air is the posthumous memoir of Paul Kalanithi, a brilliant neurosurgeon diagnosed with cancer right before completing his residency, who spent his final months writing a meditation on the meaning of life and death. You can get a bit of a flavor of Kalanithi's writing by reading his essay for the New York Times, "How Long Have I Got Left?"

Kalanithi didn't live long enough to tie it all together in a neat bow -- he wrote part of the book when the cancer had already metastasized into his brain -- so the book reads as a bit unresolved. But maybe it's not possible to "resolve" the meaning of life, and of death, in the first place, and this is part of Kalanithi's point. His wife, also a doctor, contributes a deeply moving epilogue on his behalf that helps fill in the blanks of his last weeks.

This is a beautiful book. Kalanithi had a brilliance of mind and generosity of spirit that is undeniable. He grapples with big questions and doesn't provide you with answers -- just the space for you to grapple with them too. It's profoundly moving and profoundly profound. I can see why it's become a huge bestseller.  Unforgettable.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I bought this a week ago Saturday and spent most of the next day reading it. It really is an unforgettable book. You can appreciate it for what it is and also wish that the author had had more time to complete it himself. What a tragedy that Paul didn't live to continue to be a father, husband, surgeon, and researcher, not to mention writer. His wife Lucy is so intelligent and articulate as well -- there is an interview with her on Stanford's website that I listened to yesterday.

12:49 PM  
Blogger mo pie said...

Thanks for the pointer to the interview! This is a book that has stayed with me since I read it, for sure.

8:43 AM  

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