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A Powerful Memoir – When Breath Becomes Air

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ON OUR BOOKSHELVES ///

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BOOK: When Breath Becomes Air

AUTHOR: Paul Kalanithi

YEAR OF PUBLICATION: 2016

REVIEW:

This is one you may not want to read if you’re feeling particularly fragile. It’s beautiful, yes, and eloquent. If he hadn’t left us so soon, Dr. Kalanithi might have been up there in the great all-time list of impressive writer/physicans, along with Anton Chekhov, Sir Arthur Canon Doyle, William Carlos Williams, W. Somerset Maugham, Walker Percy, and more recent authors like Oliver Sachs and Atul Gawande. Alas, he was diagnosed with stage 1V lung cancer at the age of 36, near completion of his training as a neurosurgeon, and this memoir of the end of his young life is all that we have.

I wish I’d had the opportunity to know Dr. Kalanithi before he left us, because as I learned about him by reading his book, I realized that he was just exactly the sort of person I admire most: intelligent, thoughtful, curious, kind, talented. He was focused on the big questions of how to live, and how to live well, long before his terminal illness.   And it’s a great gift to his readers that he let us into the process of his final decision-making…how to spend the remainder of the time left to him, whether or not to have a child he wouldn’t see grow up, what he truly believed in, what he wanted to say. Although the future he’d planned with his career, his wife, and the books he would someday write vanished, he died as he lived, deliberately, clear-eyed, and with appreciation and gratitude.

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I only cried while reading the epilogue, written by his wife, Dr. Lucy Kalanithi, after he died. It offers another look at the author: a bit less clinically dispassionate, a bit warmer, but equally thoughtful and loving. May the knowledge that her late husband’s words touched so many be a comfort to her in her grief.

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RATING (one to five whistles, with five being the best): 4 Whistles

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HOW TO PURCHASE: Amazon

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Laura LaVelle is an attorney and writer who lives in Connecticut, in a not quite 100-year-old house, along with her husband, two daughters, and a cockatiel.

Laura can be contacted at laura@newswhistle.com

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Lead-In Image Courtesy of JRP Studio

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