When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi (2016)

A beautifully written memoir that encourages you to strive against the brutal reality of death.


When Breath Becomes Air- Paul Kalanithi


Death is imminent and we all know it. Yet, we continue to plan for the future: getting an education, building a career, a family so on and so forth. What happens when you are blindsided by a terminal disease? All plans interrupted; a future uncertain, unknown. Kalanithi’s journey gives us a glimpse into the mind of a terminally ill patient and how the struggle is not just to survive the disease, but to make meaning out of the time that is left.

Diagonosed with inoperable lung cancer, he writes a touching memoir reflecting upon the age-old question of “what is the meaning of life?” as he struggles through his debilitating disease. A question people usually confront in old age suddenly comes 30 years in advance. The narrative is very personal and heartfelt, allowing you to get into his psyche and understand his thoughts and feelings, the negotiations and resolution he makes with fate.

It also makes you understand the difference between passing away suddenly versus confronting death that hangs like the sword of Democles. As he poignantly writes:

“I don’t know what I’ll be doing five years down the line. I may be dead. I may not be. I may be healthy. I may be writing. I don’t know. And so it’s not all that useful to spend time thinking about the future- that is, beyond lunch.”

This state, according to me, is the hardest to deal with. Not knowing what to do with your life, and to make sense of this while going through the unimaginable pain of treatment and hope for recovery is unknown. The fact that in his time of ordeal he managed to produce such a moving testimony, to me, is both brave and inspiring.

When Breath Becomes Air is a heartbreaking and a poignant account of a life cut short too soon and it definitely deserves a read.


Rating: 4/5

Publisher: Penguin Random House

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