when breath becomes air by paul kalanithi book review


Ratings: ★★★★★ (5/5)

Title: When Breath Becomes Air

Author: Paul Kalanithi

Publisher: Random House, dated January 19, 2016 (first published January 12, 2016)

Pages: 208 counts

Synopsis: Goodreads

If you stumble upon my rating system, you knew that giving this a perfect five meant that I found a gold in this book. Indeed, this is life-altering. It will take me a lifetime before I get over with it or in this case, not.at.all. Books like this is the reason why I’m being divergent (yeah, that book just pop up in my head) in choosing the genre of my books, leaping from one to another in a span of time (actually just weeks, yeah right? wait.. I just warned you here). Okay, before other books get on its way in my brain cells, let’s talk about this breathtaking and exceptional memoir.


Being the daughter of a man who died recently of the same terminal illness but of different kind, Paul had placed me not as a grieving family member in his memoir but inside the shoes of one man who had two lead roles: the former as a doctor, who had the responsibility to save a life and the latter as a suffering patient, who was diagnosed with an illness that open the face of imminent death.

“The doctor will be in soon.” And with that, the future I had imagined, the one just about to be realized, the culmination of decades of striving, evaporated.

Paul Kalanithi was a notorious neurosurgeon and scientist graduated from Stanford University with BA and MA in English literature (which justified his excellence to write this book) and BA in human biology. Graduated and hailed cum laude from Yale School of medicine, it is indisputable that Paul will traverse the path of success at his young age only to be introduced at death when he was diagnosed with terminal illness, lung cancer.

In his first narratives, I felt cordially accompanied in his early life as a striving student torn between literature and science. His thirst to know about life and its profound meaning, the worth of living and how death will play the end game led him to his conquest to find where his passion lies. Being born in the household of professionals specialized in medicine, his option as a doctor is gleaming but his love for literature is undeniable and genuine, which he end up choosing as his first major.

What makes human life meaningful? I still felt literature provided the best account of the life of the mind, while neuroscience laid down the most elegant rules of the brain.

Yet as he finished his thesis, one of his advisers had remarked the conflict of Paul not befitting in literary world, which he obviously knew until he get back up to his root and give science an opportunity and alas, found himself at the arms of neuroscience.

Neurosurgery requires a commitment to one’s own excellence and a commitment to another’s identity. The decision to operate at all involves an appraisal of one’s own abilities, as well as a deep sense of who the patient is and what she holds dear.

In between pages I found myself dragged again in the premises of the hospital, trapped between a life and death situation as Paul’s words illuminated his role as a neurosurgeon. His passion to understand life, his search to its meaning, his pursuit about sufferings and pleasures through his profession gave vibration within my veins, I have felt his responsibility to save a life and pronounced death. The hefty responsibility beneath the scalpel and the sacredness it held for his patient’s life. He gave me an experience and glimpse of how a neurosurgeon’s hands can resurrect hope, joy and pain into another’s life as well as denied it all at once.

Being with patients in these moments certainly had its emotional cost, but it also had its rewards. I don’t think I ever spent a minute of any day wondering why I did this work, or whether it was worth it. The call to protect life–and not merely life but another’s identity; it is perhaps not too much to say another’s soul– was obvious in its sacredness.

As I contemplate his words, I felt the transparency of his life draped with the gown and gloves which is apparent through his voice; by then he had gave a deeper understanding of how valuable and fragile life could be, which also gave a tangent discernment and connection to its opposite side, death.

Our patients’ lives and identities may be in our hands yet death always wins. Even if you are perfect, the world isn’t. The secret is to know that the deck is stacked, that you will lose, that your hands or judgment will slip, and yet still struggle to win for your patients. You can’t ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you were ceaselessly striving.

Transported to confrontation of his illness, Paul as a patient enthralled remarkable deep-seated core values within me. It might be the most vulnerable part of his life yet represented an intersecting point where I found his adamant, dauntless, dominant and most persuasive voice.

I had learned long ago as an undergraduate: I’ll go on. I got out of bed and took a step forward, repeating the phrase over and over: “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”

He had left me noteworthy lessons of valor in the valleys of struggles and pain. He instilled that I should accept death as a part of my mortality but not make it as an excuse to rob the identity, values, and love I had towards the blessings of life. His outstanding resilience as a neurosurgeon to continue his passion and work, his devotion as a husband and father to love deeply and give birth to another life; moreover, his eagerness as Paul, himself, to still live even though he knew he is dying had embarked a perspective I won’t forget. My sojourn to the life of this man might be short and humble, his body completely withered with time, posolutely his soul will stay with me because his end has given birth for my beginning.

One day we were born, one day we shall die, the same day, the same second… Birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more.


I want to share how I felt ecstatic to post my third (my thiiird!! *squeal)  book review. I really juggle my time (a lot) so I can manage my schedule on writing a post and I’m so grateful for those who are with me. Reading is as natural as my breathing but blogging my thoughts after reading a book is definitely new for me. Thereupon, I want to give gratitude to my followers and fellow bloggers who supported my back! As a novice, you light my path and inspired me to take a step and marvel to the world of blogging with an open mind and heart. Well, I expected you to be this lovely but not that you are beyond lovely and overwhelmingly amiable (amity faction is real..oops, strike two!). Again, my heartfelt gratitude lovelies! And oh, I found this book tag thing, I’ll be happy to receive one or volunteer as a tribute! (ok, that’s my last. haha) Have a happy weekend!



3 thoughts on “when breath becomes air by paul kalanithi book review

  1. Very nice review! I haven’t read this book yet, but I’m interested in the subject because it’s wow! His strength to write this book is very inspirational! I’m glad you enjoyed it, I have to consider reading it soon! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Highly recommended, Marty!! One of my favorite reads last month. I’m happy that you are considering it, when I read this I never imagine that there’s a man who is stellar in both lit and science field! Paul is one of a kind and this is my first time to have a doctor crush, and the cruel truth is.. he died two years ago. In short, I’m luring you to read this, really! 🙂


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