Friday, September 1, 2017

When Breath Becomes Air - Paul Kalanithi ------------------------- 4 Stars

I tend to shy away from "sad" books. There seems to be too much despair in the world, and too many things I've studied in world history, that I always prefer to avoid the subject. When Breath Becomes Air falls into the "sad" group of books, but it is also falls into the another category - "rewarding" books to read.

If you've not heard about this book, you should! It's about an incredibly accomplished and, beginning to be world-renowned, neurosurgeon and neuroscientist who was diagnosed with Stage IV Lung Cancer at only 36 years of age (something like a .0002% chance).  Not long after, the author passed away and this is his nearly finished memoir which he began writing after his diagnosis and almost finished before he passed.

To begin, the author is a superb writer and, overall, incredibly smart dude. As he was doing his undergrad, he struggled between learning about one's physical mortality (doctor) and understanding one's morality (philosopher side). Through his life, he was an avid reader and writer, and this shows through during the novel. It's almost hard to believe how accomplished a doctor Kalanithi is while also being such a superb writer.

The story is told in two parts; pre- and post- cancer. Not surprisingly, the second half is much more challenging to get through. As I reflect more upon the novel after finishing, I think I understand more now about why it came across as so tragic. I think part of it is the importance and value a person like Kalanithi has to a society and world. As you learn more about his work, and the accomplishments and ways he has helped others, you realize how much was taken from others. Truly, his death, without doubt, has/is leading to deaths/illnesses of others. This was not a fun take-away. To complicate and make things harder to digest, his wife and family were large parts of the joys of his life. In fact, there is a beautifully written afterword by his wife, that really got the tears flowing!

So, I do recommend the book but you need to know what you are getting into. I'm not a huge fan of crying on my book while reading, but I made an exception for this one! It's a truly tragic story but one that's worth reading to give you a lot more insights about both death and life.

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