When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi

Wild Library_When breath becomes air_Chantelle Elizabeth Turner

Genre: Autobiography

This is not a book I would pick out for myself. Believe it or not, I am not a big fan of teary tales, maybe because I cry easily enough as it is. But a friend, who is an avid reader herself, brought the book over to my house and said: “I think you’ll enjoy it, it’s… profound.”

The book was left on my shelf for more than a month before I plucked up the courage to read it. Perhaps I was dreading the tears (I’ll be honest, there were a few towards the end), perhaps it was the fact that I’m married to a doctor that made this feel too close to home. Trusting my friend’s taste, however, I gave it a go and it was not what I expected.

The short version: Doctor Paul Kalanithi was on the verge of the life he had worked so hard for. He only had a few months to go, then his training as a neurosurgeon would be complete. He was looking forward to reasonable working hours, settling into a well earned medical- and academic career, and starting a family. Then he was diagnosed with cancer. He knew that he would die, but no one could tell him how much time he had left. (This is a true story, if you were wondering.) He decided to write this book in which he unpacked and grappled with questions around life and death.

I found the book honest and without any sentimental frills. It’s not one of those “Ah, this is the meaning of life; this is what’s important” books. It delves bravely into complex questions with the knowledge that we may never receive the answers that we are looking for, even at death’s door. I thought about the story for days after and I’ve since recommended the book to a number of friends: “I think you’ll like it, it’s profound.”