Echoes from English Class: When Breath Becomes Air

A medium for students to pour out their vivid thoughts on the books assigned in their respective English classes, whether it be completely trashing it or applauding it, or something in between.

“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 one fades away?” These are just some of the questions that Paul Kalanithi explores in his internationally acclaimed memoir When Breath Becomes Air.

Paul Kalanithi was a renowned neurosurgeon and neuroscientist at Stanford University, who was diagnosed with Stage IV metastatic lung cancer in his mid-thirties.

An American of Indian origin, Kalanithi attained a Bachelor and Master of Arts in English Literature and a Bachelor of Science in Human Biology in 2000. Initially considering English Literature, Kalanithi shifted his path to medicine. He went on to study at Yale Medical School, where he met his wife, Lucy Goddard.

However, in his final year of completing residency at Stanford University, Paul was faced with an unexpected challenge. After weeks of constant back pain and other health problems, it was confirmed that he was diagnosed with lung cancer. This is when the story takes a turn, and Kalanithi shifts role from being a doctor to a patient.

Following his diagnosis, Kalanithi decides to shift his purpose from being a neurosurgeon to a writer. Both Lucy and Paul decided to have a beautiful daughter named Cady. She brings love, togetherness, and joy into their family. It’s a wonderful way for Kalanithi to spend his last few months with his family. In his memoir, Kalanithi argues that the answers to life’s biggest questions are found in relationships.

Kalanithi strives to live a meaningful life and learns to cherish moments with his loved ones. He is an ardent reader, and the novels that he read, shaped his perspectives on life, death and the obstacles that come along with it. His love for literature transformed him into an empathetic surgeon, who cared deeply for all his patients.

What makes this book unique is how Kalanithi uses detailed personal anecdotes about his patients, colleagues, family members, and friends to reflect upon his life and express his deepest emotions to the readers.

Picture by Knema Gardner 

Edited by Nalin Mahajan


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