When Breath becomes air – Paul Kalanithi

About When Breath Becomes Air

What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, no longer a ladder toward your goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present? What does it mean to have a child, to nurture a new life as another fades away? These are some of the questions Kalanithi wrestles with in this profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir.

At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. And just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a naïve medical student “possessed,” as he wrote, “by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life” into a neurosurgeon at Stanford working in the brain, the most critical place for human identity, and finally into a patient and new father confronting his own mortality.

Paul Kalanithi died in March 2015, while working on this book, yet his words live on as a guide and a gift to us all. “I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality, in a sense, had changed nothing and everything,” he wrote. “Seven words from Samuel Beckett began to repeat in my head: ‘I can’t go on. I’ll go on.’” When Breath Becomes Air is an unforgettable, life-affirming reflection on the challenge of facing death and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a brilliant writer who became both.


This book from the blurb tells you one thing – It’s sadL.  My review will be guided by 3 quotes that I found profound and stood out for me.

Death may be a onetime event, but living with terminal illness is a process.- Paul Kalanithi

The author took us through the process of his terminal illness. A sad journey, where you not only learn how cruel life can be, but how life is precious and we many at times take it for granted until we are presented with a situation of terminal illness.

There is no proof of God: therefore it is unreasonable to believe in God – Paul Kalanithi

These are some of the situations the author came face to face with. He came face to face with his mortality. In instances when we do not understand why things are happening to us, our immediate comfort becomes religion. In my personal experience, when it becomes a challenge for me to be consistent in Bible study and prayer. When things start going contrary in our life and in a negative way we turn to the Bible and prayer for solutions. I believe God puts us through these challenges for a reason. HE remains sovereign.  I mean, everything happens for a reason. We do not have the answers to the difficult questions of why things are happening. But we get comfort in the Bible just like the wirter did

The main message of Jesus, I believed, is that mercy trumps justice every time – Paul Kalanithi

Such deep quotes found within this book. This book is one that will remain in my memory for some time. Here is why: there are sections there in that require you to read and re- read again. They require reflection. His work though written in time of pain and I believe was challenging, was clearly thought through.



3 thoughts on “When Breath becomes air – Paul Kalanithi

  1. For some reason, I have never been able to finish reading this book. I am intrigued by the quotes that you shared though and our comment on the impact that the book had on you. I hope to reread it again soon. Great review.

    1. Thanks Diana, I finally managed to review it after reading it a while back. I connected with Paul and really empathised with him.

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