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Review: When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi


When Breath Becomes Air - Paul Kalanithi

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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4 comments on “Review: When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi”

  1. It sounds beautiful, and I’ve reserved it at the library for when I finally manage to get there! Thanks for the tip 🙂

  2. This book has been on my radar for a little while, and the only thing that’s putting me off reading is knowing it’s really going to affect me… which seems a bit silly to say really, seeing as that’s the whole point, isn’t it!? 🙂 I followed snippets of what was happening to Paul while reading A Cup of Jo, and I’d like to read this book after reading a couple of essays he published online before he died. Have you read these? 🙂

    Having read your review, I think I’ll loan it from my library. Thank you for the nudge! 🙂


    1. Hi Flora – I know the feeling – I did the same with A Little Life. I’d heard it was so heartbreaking I couldn’t bring myself to read it; but it was, without question, the best book I’ve ever read. When Breath Becomes Air really is quite beautiful. I haven’t read either of those essays or come across A Cup of Jo before – so you’ve sorted my reading for today! Let me know how you get on with it xx

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