When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I haven’t read another memoir that deals with death so directly. I’m sure others exist, but I just haven’t read them. Any memoir dealing with cancer is going to be emotionally weighty, but I was impressed by Kalanithi’s thoughts on lived experience and mortality.

Kalanithi was a neurosurgeon as well as a sufferer of terminal illness. In his work, he had to face questions about life, death, quality of life, and possible cognitive consequences for his patients.

Then he had to face those questions for himself when he got sick. He talks a lot about what life for those of us trying to make sense of death. As a doctor, he was acutely aware of what the various cut-off points of his treatment meant. The further he went into treatment, the more he could extend his life, but every extension had to be paid for by some quality of life.

I thought the writing (or the editing) was quite impressive considering that he wrote it while he was going through cancer treatments. Unfortunately, he didn’t get to finish his own story, but we do get an ending that was very nicely written by his widow. This is not a spoiler, you find out in the preface that Kalanithi did not survive.

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