Read this essen­tial, life- af­firm­ing book

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - READS - re­view by DIANA YEONG star2@ thes­tar. com. my

“THE fact of death is un­set­tling. Yet there is no other way to live.”

They say we be­gin dy­ing the mo­ment we take our first breaths, but most of us live as if each breath is a given, and the fact of death is some­thing unimag­in­ably for­eign.

With de­grees in Bi­ol­ogy and English and two Masters in Lit­er­a­ture and Phi­los­o­phy al­ready un­der his belt, 35- year- old Dr Paul Kalanithi was al­most at the cul­mi­na­tion of decades of ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing and just months away from his goal of be­com­ing a sur­geon- scientist and pro­fes­sor of neu­ro­surgery.

He was, like most peo­ple, wait­ing for the point when life as he imag­ined it would fi­nally be­gin.

Lit­tle did he imag­ine that on the cusp of the ful­fil­ment of his dreams, life would hand him the great­est chal­lenge of all: ter­mi­nal cancer.

Battling rapidly de­te­ri­o­rat­ing health, Dr Kalanithi grap­pled with a need to make sense of his life.

Cancer forced him take a step back, and as is the wont of those whose days are sud­denly num­bered, he be­gan to ask him­self: Is life worth liv­ing if it is a life full of suf­fer­ing? Where is the line when science must give way to faith? What is the mean­ing of life when it is so fi­nite, so in­fin­i­tes­i­mal, and death so ruth­less and indis­crim­i­nate?

When Breath Be­comes Air

chron­i­cles his per­sonal ru­mi­na­tions and thoughts as he raced against time and de­bil­i­tat­ing ill­ness to com­plete his gru­elling sur­gi­cal train­ing, be­come a fa­ther, and write the book he’d al­ways dreamt of writ­ing.

Dr Kalanithi’s writ­ing is breath- tak­ingly hon­est and coura­geous, a qui­etly mov­ing tour- de- force that will bring you to a deep ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the para­dox of life: how only in the face of death do we find value and re­spect for the here and now.

Read­ing his mem­oir is like hear­ing the voice of a very great and wise man, teach­ing us to live life with hope, love, the pur­suit of ex­cel­lence, courage and grat­i­tude, the way only a dy­ing man can.

I rec­om­mend this book if you en­joy reads that move, en­gage, en­lighten and in­spire you.

If phi­los­o­phy in­ter­ests you, read this book for a lively and in­tel­li­gent ex­plo­ration of the co­nun­drums of hu­man mor­tal­ity and ex­is­ten­tial­ism.

Doc­tors and lovers of science and medicine will find much for them in Dr Kalanithi’s ac­counts of his med­i­cal train­ing and prac­tice, and the role of doc­tors who hold life and death in their hands on a daily ba­sis.

And ev­ery­one who breathes will ap­pre­ci­ate his witty, wise, oh- so- poignant story, an essen­tial, life- af­firm­ing re­minder that each day, each per­son, each breath, is some­thing we need to treasure.

Dr Kalanithi died on March 9, 2015, leav­ing be­hind wife Lucy and new daugh­ter Cady.

And this won­der­ful book, which Lucy fin­ished by adding what hap­pened af­ter he had penned his last words, and that she saw re­leased last month.

Photo: ran­dom house

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