At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade's training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanthi was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, the next he was a patient struggling to live.
When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanthi's transformation from a medical student in search of what makes a virtuous and meaningful life into a neurosurgeon working in the core of human identity - the brain - and finally into a patient and a new father.
What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when life is catastrophically interrupted? What does it mean to have a child as your own life fades away?
Paul Kalanthi died while working on this profoundly moving book, yet his words live on as a guide to us all. When Breath Becomes Air is a life-affirming reflection on facing our mortality and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a gifted writer who became both.
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi was published in hardback by The Bodley Head (Penguin) on 4 February 2016.
Paul Kalanithi was a brilliant man, with a brilliant mind. He was hugely talented, and it is clear from this book that whatever career path he wanted to take, he would have been a success.
The Forward is written by Abraham Vergese and the Epilogue penned by Kalanithi's wife Lucy, their words express the love and respect that they felt for this man who did so much, and had such an impact during his tragically short life.
When Breath Becomes Air is not a doom filled, maudlin story, although your heart may break just a little bit whilst you are reading. It is filled with determination and hope, and is a testament to this young man's whole take on life.
Paul Kalanithi had life mapped out. He worked hard to become one of the best neurosurgeons in the world, he won awards and was destined for even greater things. He'd studied for most of his life, gaining four degrees in varying subjects and there was a time when he was undecided as to whether he would become a writer or a medic. Medicine won, but his love of words and language shine through in his book, his questioning nature, his belief in himself and in what he could do and his determination to be the best.
When Kalanithi was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer he dealt with the news in the same way that he dealt with everything in life. He wanted honesty, he wanted the best, he wanted answers. He wanted to fight. When it became clear that he was too sick to carry on operating, he stayed at home, to spend time with his family, and with his new daughter. He also continued to write his story, and although he died before he could write the final words, he still left behind a wonderfully life-affirming story; a legacy for his wife and his daughter, and for other cancer patients.
A remarkable book, written by a remarkable man. His writing is lyrical and quite beautiful.
I bought my copy of When Breathe Becomes Air from Waterstone's Lincoln
Watch the When Breath Becomes Air trailer
Paul Kalanthi was a neurosurgeon and writer.
He held degrees in English literature, human
biology, and history and philosophy of science and medicine from Stanford and Cambridge universities before graduating from Yale School of Medicine. He also received the American Academy of Neurological Surgery's highest award for research.
His reflections on doctoring and illness have been published in the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Paris Review Daily.
Kalanithi died in March 2015, aged 37. He is survived by his wife, Lucy and their daughter Elizabeth Acadia.