Friday, December 30, 2022

When Breath Becomes air

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When Breath Becomes air, by Paul Kalanithi

I can’t go on. I’ll go on” – Samuel Beckett

I don’t think I will ever relate to a quote as much as I did to this one. This quote sums up the book in more ways than one.

When brilliant neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, just months from finishing his residency, his life is turned upside down. A man who spent all his time searching for the meaning behind life and the truth about death is brought face to face with it by a cruel twist of fate. His bright and shining future is snuffed out by a single blow. Forced to come to terms with his own mortality, this book delves into Paul’s journey of acceptance over the span of two years, from the time of his diagnosis to his untimely demise.

At first glance, to some this book may seem to be sad and rather depressing, but it is SO much more than that.

“When Breath Becomes Air” may quite literally be one of the most beautifully written books I’ve ever read. It exudes rawness and sincerity with every page. The last few years of a person’s life are chronicled so beautifully that you can’t help but fall in love with its pure honesty.

I wouldn’t say I’m a very emotional person when I read books, but this one broke through my barriers and reached parts of me I didn’t even know existed. The epilogue written by his wife after his demise was probably one of the only things in the world of literature that has ever made me tear up.

The title itself is a testament to the true meaning behind the book. It was probably one of the first things that made me pick it up and I’m so glad I did.

People always say they have things that inspire them or keep them going. However, when it comes to this book, inspiration would probably be insufficient to describe my relationship with it.

 It was arguably the reason I ever got interested in medicine, and cancer specifically. The numerous cases described in it were so fascinating. The book doesn’t shy away from the difficult parts of medicine and the truth about being a doctor. Reading it helped me realize what my passion was and confirmed that I really and truly did want to get into medicine, no matter how hard it was.

It helped me come to the realization that if I wanted to do something, I needed to do it.. I may not get another chance and well I should probably take it (right?). I learnt not to care too much about other people’s opinions because the chances were that I wouldn’t meet them again and I couldn’t cater MY life to someone else’s expectations. Life is SHORT and I wasn’t going to spend it in a daze of anxiety and constant overthinking (at least I was going to try).

Ultimately, the message that I took away, comes down the quote I mentioned at the start. The quote became Paul’s mantra in the last years of his life and in some ways it is also mine.

It’s so true because even when I felt like couldn’t do something, I realized I didn’t have a choice. Being a high-schooler in India is NOT a walk in the park, throw in COVID and you’ve got yourself quite a mess. But even when my stress levels were at an all-time high, I somehow persevered and got through it. This was because I didn’t have any other options since I couldn’t really stop living could I?

No matter how hard things seemed, I knew they HAD to get better at some point.

It’s impossible to put into words how grateful I am for this book.

So remember, even when life is being especially hard on you just take the advice of this book and you’ll soon find that every cloud truly does have a silver lining.

“I can’t go on. I’ll go on”



  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Vintage (5 January 2017)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 256 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 9781784701994
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1784701994

 © 2022, Anika Agarwal. All rights reserved.

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