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KIU Book Club: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi


By Rogers Wanambwa

KIU, Main Campus - When you read most books, the exhilarating feeling achieved is unmatchable, especially if you are a book lover. Now, when you read Paul Kalanithi's 'When Breath Becomes Air', you get to experience a new set of emotions - real emotions. You might even shed a tear or two. Bill Gates certainly did, and so did I. 

In this book, Paul takes you through his life as he writes in his last year on Earth after being diagnosed with Metastitc Lung Cancer. He, with such prose, narrates how his life turns from that of one of the brightest students, to one the best neurosurgeons in the world, and then to simply being in a chair while he counts the day's hours away. His only joy by then, being to see the smile on his months-old daughter's face. 

Yet, he is still considerate enough to portray other people's emotions like in this passage were he talks about his professor:

"Other times, the kinship was much simpler. Once, while showing us the ruins of our donor’s pancreatic cancer, the professor asked, “How old is this fellow?” “Seventy-four,” we replied. “That’s my age,” he said, set down the probe, and walked away."

Paul manages to make light of the situation he finds himself in as he takes all of it in stride but he still shows how vulnerable he felt when he writes that, "Doctors, it turns out, need hope, too."

Arguably, being the most touching autobiography I've ever read, the book still manages to bring a light in the darkness of such a disease like in this passage by Lucy Kalanithi, Paul's wife: "What happened to Paul was tragic, but he was not a tragedy."


'When Breath Becomes Air' is a non-fiction autobiographical book written by American Neurosurgeon Dr. Paul Kalanithi. It is a memoir about his life and illness, battling stage IV Metastatic Lung Cancer. It was posthumously published by Random House on January 12, 2016. Source - Wikipedia