When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I do not go out and read really sad books or books I know will end in a tragedy. However, it took me about 2 hours to read this one - sitting in a bookstore.
To say that this is a profoundly moving book is an understatement. It is difficult to pick this book up and read through it without going through a gamut of emotions.
I read about Paul Kalanithi in a NY times magazine essay. I felt bad for him but then thought not much about it. So when I saw this book in the shelf in Odyssey(Adyar), I felt a little curious and started reading the preface. I got hooked and got up after finishing the book.
The book needs you to emotionally invest in another person's life as though he was someone near to you. You read it and you feel the ebb and flow of his emotions going through the diagnosis, prognosis and slowly slipping into the other world.
Paul starts with his life in the desert hinterland of Arizona and those were the chapters which interests and you cheer for the little guy who runs around catching scorpions, telling tall tales to Berliners - a normal boy in his teens with an interest in books and literature.
Then it quickly moves through his time in Stanford and his time in the hospital working with many doctors and his approach towards the patients. Then he falls ill and is diagnosed with cancer.
Having gone through some of those whirlwind of emotions personally and with a few friends, it is not very difficult to think of his handling of the same. The uncertainty, the slim hope of a miracle somehow, the agony of waiting for the test results, the anticipation and negation of having to meet the doctor and hear what he/she is going to say are all deeply personal and terrifying at the same time.
Paul, for most of his part, is very brave to confront what is happening in his life and taking charge of it. However, I couldn't stop thinking of those sleepless nights he must've had with excruciating pain and fear which he never recorded. It is difficult to understand the gaps in the narrative without a gut-wrenching feeling of what it must've been like.
The lyrical prose - a result, I believe, of his being a student of literature for long, conveys what he says and what he lefts out as well. In places where he quotes T.S. Eliot and his own thoughts on mortality and God are places you want to read again and again. They tell you something about the brilliant mind that worked behind the malady itself.
It is more painful to know that he wouldn't be writing anymore. He talks about spending 20 years of his life to writing. He ended up with spending less than 2.
It is also difficult to come out of reading the book without realizing how fickle our lives are and be not ashamed of all the vanities that drives us.
An amazing read..indeed..
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