When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

I once had a lecturer say to me that when you study a Masters, you read of lot of everything but you really complete anything. She was right. Due to the constraints of time it becomes incredibly difficult impossible to read much of anything beyond assigned coursework and research material. And even then, some pages are ‘skimmed’ rather than absorbed. Which is why I selected the treatise of a dying neurosurgeon as my ‘off-duty’ text (!?!).

I’m so pleased I did. The brevity of this memoir should not be conflated with its importance because this text is truly inspirational. A doctor, a healer and an admirer of the great poetic works of the ages, Dr Kalanithi writes with a grace and poise that sits alongside some of the best writers of the ages.

The memoir has been clinically divided into two parts: before and after diagnosis. The ‘before’ is mercifully succinct. Kalanithi skips over the inane tales of childhood that are so formulaic in biography and are so tedious to read, I am not sure why they are included time after time. The second part is his diagnosis: his ability to cope or otherwise and the realisation that the life he had planned for himself and his family is not to be.

This is a beautifully constructed memoir and reads like an exquisite novel. Kalanithi’s interest in arts and philosophy permeates each page, even when he is describing the most technical of medical details. This memoir had me at the title but did not disappoint as I traversed its inspirational pages.

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Author: Tome To Read

Book, wine and food lover. I created this blog to discuss the things I love.

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