If you’re looking for a heartbreaking book to read in a single sitting, then When Breath Becomes Air may just be what you’re after. It’s one of those books that I had seen almost everywhere before I finally bought it one wet and windy afternoon from in Mona Vale’s Berkelouw Books. It had been lauded with praise in countless publications, and many spoke of its tear-jerking qualities.
Written by Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air is a memoir about his life and illness, following his diagnosis of stage IV metastatic lung cancer as he approached completion of his training as a neurosurgeon. Both moving and thought-provoking, Kalanithi’s autobiography chronicles his transformation from an eager and inspired medical student to a qualified neurosurgeon nearing the end of his life.
Readers follow his exploration of what makes a life worth living? and witness the decisions he is faced with – including whether to start a family with his wife, knowing he’ll leave his unborn child fatherless at a young age – and the grace and humility with which he acts as death quickly approaches. While the story is undoubtedly a sad one, it also teaches its reader important life lessons, and does so with an abundance of grace and dignity.
An observation of both life and death, abundant with prose and poetically written, When Breath Becomes Air is an exquisite and stirring read about a man who faced death with both dignity and fortitude, and will continue to move readers decades from now.
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