When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi.
Reviewed by Dallas Payne
A Neurosurgeon’s story in which Paul Kalanithi finds peace in his struggle with death.
When Paul Kalanithi went to college he was indecisive about what he should be at first, but later became a neurosurgeon. He saved a lot of lives but later became very stressed. As a result his marriage suffered. He developed cancer and died three months after his daughter was born.
Paul Kalanithis’ life seesawed between being calm and being stressed. His life was calm as a child but was stressed as a neurosurgeon. Then later in life he was calm after he had cancer. Also he was calm when he died.
I think this autobiography is skeptical. One of my reasons is that he almost never mentions God. Second he does not describe his saving experience. Lastly he does not look to God for peace but instead he looks to his family.
I think the turning point in this book is after his first bout with cancer. Before, he is over taxed at work. Also, as result, he is stressed and grumpy. Cancer causes him to less angry at the little thing because he’s had something huge happen to him. Lastly, he is not a good husband before but after he and his wife patch up their marriage.
The author make confessions without justifications. For instance he says he slept in an empty dorm when he had no home but did not say it was okay. When he neglects his wife he admits his error and does not justify it. Last, when he is callous to his patients he admits his error.
The model for the author’s life is family. In one passage he describes his dream family very wistfully. Also when he has family problems he is sad. Last he is willing to work ridiculous hours to help his family.
At the end of his life Paul Kalanithi achieved peace. He was reconciled with his wife. He had a daughter. He was a success as a neurosurgeon.
Paul Kalanithi’s wife was the most important person in his life. In his autobiography he mentioned her in 75% of the book. At his death she was the most emotional, speaking quite descriptively about his last moments in the epilogue of the book. He was grateful for cancer because it let him reconnect with his wife. They at one point said that “cancer saved our marriage”. These are just some of the reasons Paul Kalanithi’s wife was the most important person in his life.
I appreciated that Paul Kalanithi loved his family but I would have like to know that found a peace that lasted beyond this life.