BOOK REVIEW: When Breath Becomes Air – by Paul Kalanithi

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Title: When Breath Becomes Air
Author: Paul Kalanithi

Genre: Non Fiction, Memoir, Health
First published: January 12th 2016
Publisher: Random House
Finished reading: November 18th 2016
Pages: 208
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“Human knowledge is never contained in one person. It grows from the relationships we create between each other and the world, and still it is never complete.”

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I have been reading more memoirs and non fiction reads than average in 2016, but Paul Kalanithi‘s story is without doubt one of the most powerful ones I’ve read this year and it deserves being nominated for Best Memoir in the Goodreads Choice Awards. When Breath Becomes Air is powerful, raw, emotional and simply heartbreaking… The story of a young neurosurgeon who lost his battle against cancer, a man who tried to write down the story of his life as he was trying to race against the clock. This rush especially shows in the last part of the memoir he managed to write himself, but that only makes this memoir more authentic and adds a whole other level to it. It’s hard to write about and/or criticize the work of a person whose life and dreams were cut short, and I have decided not to take in account the minor flaws in the prose and pace that might slow down the reading at points. The mismatched pace is a sign of a man who ran out of time, and desperately tried to finish what he had always wanted to do at some point in his life: write a book. If you are looking for a powerful memoir and don’t mind having a few packs of tissues ready, pick up When Breath Becomes Air. You won’t regret it.

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Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer at the age of thirty-six, just as he as about to complete a decade worth of training as a neurosurgeon. Suddenly, his life went from making a living treating the sick and dying to being a patient himself… And just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. In this memoir, he wrote about his connection to literature and questions about the virtuous and meaningful life, and how he ended up deciding to study to be a neurosurgeon. What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future suddenly flattens out into a perpetual present?

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When Breath Becomes Air is without doubt one of the most powerful and emotional memoirs I’ve read this year. If you look critically, the prose might have a few minor flaws and the pace wasn’t perfect, but that is all soon forgotten if you just think about who wrote this story in the first place and his background. Paul Kalanithi was a man running out of time, and yet still determined to follow his dream and finally write his book as his legacy. Powerful throughout and the final part written by his wife was especially moving.

WWW Wednesdays #112 – November 23rd

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WWW WEDNESDAYS is a weekly meme hosted by Sam @ Taking On A World Of Words and is all about answering the three questions below.

  • WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING?

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I’m currently almost finished rereading Six Of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, and of course I’m loving this story as much as I did the first time around. As soon as I do end the final page, I’m picking up the sequel Crooked Kingdom! I’m also reading the Netgalley ARC While You Were Sleeping by Kathryn Croft, although I’m only a few pages into that one so far. And I’m quite far into my very first audiobook experience with Secondhand Smoke by M. Louis. I have to admit it takes some time getting used to the whole audiobook thing, but this action-packed story does make it a lot easier for me to enjoy the process.

  • WHAT DID YOU RECENTLY FINISH READING?

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* I first finished reading Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi, which I had picked up on a whim after being in the mood for a fantasy read. (The fact that it’s a Goodreads Choice Nominee is a bonus of course). I loved the worldbuilding and the prose is great, but I wasn’t too convinced by the characters or the ending. It’s a middle grade read though, and I have a feeling the target group will probably love this story.
* I then finished reading The Girls Next Door by Mel Sherratt, which turned out to be quite a refreshing new detective series in the way that the detective the series is named after doesn’t play that big of a role nor does she have a messed up private life. It’s also quite a fast-paced read, although I have to admit the sheer amount of characters that is introduced can get quite confusing at times. I had a hard time identifying where each character stood in the story, and it made it more difficult to actually just enjoy the story. I also had problems with the credibility?
* Afterwards I decided to read When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, and it turns out it is nominated for Best Memoir for a good reason. This memoir is powerful, raw, emotional and simply heartbreaking… The story of a young neurosurgeon who lost the battle against cancer, a man who tried to write down the story of his life during a race against the clock. The rush especially shows in the last part he wrote himself, but that only makes this memoir more authentic. The final part written by his wife was especially moving.
* Afterwards I decided to continue with Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. It’s a truly interesting historical fiction novel set in both Africa and the US and follows different generations of two initial characters. The story was a bit confusing in the beginning, mostly due to the sheer amount of characters that are introduced over time. The pace was a tad slow at times as well, but overall Homegoing is without doubt a very powerful and well researched historical fiction novel.
* The last book I read is A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, which was my last TBR jar pick. And boy do I regret not having picked this one up earlier! This originally Swedish book was in one word BRILLIANT. I fell in love with the prose and main character from the very first page and it’s been a while since a book has been able to make me laugh and cry at the same time. Ove has managed to win over my heart, grumpiness and all, and he is hands down one of my new favorite characters. Fredrik Backman is able to combine heartbreaking and sensitive topics with a humor that is right up my alley; I can’t wait to read more of his work soon. (By the way, am I the only one who thinks Ove sounds a bit like the old grumpy man in the movie Up?)

  • WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’LL READ NEXT?

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I’m still trying to read more Goodreads Choice Awards nominees, so I have The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner and Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly on my list. I also want to try and read my very first Reading Alley ARC: Tipping Point by Tomas Byrne. Lastly, I have a new TBR jar pick: Little Women by Louise May Alcott. I have to admit I have never read this classic before nor am I that excited about it, but hopefully I will turn out to be wrong about this one. At least it’s a great excuse to squeeze in another classic before the end of this year. 😉

WWW Wednesdays #111 – November 16th

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WWW WEDNESDAYS is a weekly meme hosted by Sam @ Taking On A World Of Words and is all about answering the three questions below.

  • WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING?

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I’m currently reading two of the Goodreads Choice Awards finalists: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi and Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi. I’m not that far into the stories yet, but both look quite promising. I’ve also started my very first audiobook Secondhand Smoke by M. Louis (narrated by Colin Iago McCarthy), which was sent to me by Mindbuck Media Book Publicity in exchange for an honest review. It still takes time to get used to the whole audiobook idea, but there are definitely advantages to it.

  • WHAT DID YOU RECENTLY FINISH READING?

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*The first book I have managed to finish is Before You Leap by Keith Houghton, which turned out to be a really interesting psychological thriller. The prose was great and even though the story was a bit confusing in the beginning, I ended up really enjoying this read. I’m not too sure about the ending though.
* I then read It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover, and boy, she has done it again. Those who know me are already aware of my not-so-good relation with the romance genre, but this one is an exception to the rule. This title just became the second 5 star CoHo book on my list. Why is it so brilliant? With a well written story, intriguing plot, strong characters and a very important theme, there isn’t much that can go wrong.
* The last book I finished this week is The Power by Naomi Alderman, a title I requested based on Claire‘s review and turned out to be just as good as she had promised me. It’s without doubt a very powerful read indeed and one that will stay with me for a while. Read this one if you have the chance!

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I should really pick up another pending Netgalley ARC; most likely The Girls Next Door by Mel Sherratt. I also want to read both When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi and Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo since they are finalists in the Goodreads Choice Awards. I might read my latest TBR jar pick is still A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman first though.