When Breath Becomes Air reminds me of a Kazuo Ishiguro (one of my favorite authors) interview on Never Let Me Go. In that interview, Ishiguro said that he was somewhat taken aback by people saying that the book was sad because the characters had to die. But death is something we (as human-beings) already know. We all have to die. His book thus is about what are important to people when knowing time is limited. And those things essentially are cheerful.
When Breath Becomes Air is such kind of a book, despite a predestined sadness, reminding us about love, family, dream, ambition, responsibility, beauty, poetry, philosophy, science, and all the things making life meaningful and cheerful. But Paul Kalanithi was not writing a fiction story. The book does not work through beautiful prose or crafty structure. Instead he chronicled his personal journey towards death with gripping details, both physically and psychologically, with an open heart and honesty. The book is incredibly raw and powerful — not a book by a “writer”, but a long letter from a vulnerable, brave, and intimate friend.
Paul died before he could formally finish the book. The book was “incomplete” with both some thought-jumping digressions and an abrupt ending. But to me that “incompleteness” only makes the book more powerful and fitting as a metaphor for Paul’s life. In fact isn’t it a metaphor for everyone’s life? Can anyone ever claim having a “complete” life before death?
I am deeply thankful to Paul for giving us this profound book, and Lucy, for the beautiful and touching epilogue. Thank you.