The experience of reading ‘When Breath Becomes Air’ is a strange one. You start with the end, and know that an articulate, passionate and caring man has died, and he is the one who has written most of the words. It is written with urgency, to get down these words before he died. There is also a sense of a key mystery that is at the heart of many books: in this case, as compelling a mystery as any; will Paul Kalanithi discover the meaning of life, and of death?
I did have the sense, after finishing, this beautifully written, fiercely intelligent and compassionate book, that with more time, Kalanithi would have written more, filled in more details, had the time to explore even more. And yet, the answer, the meaning of it all, in my interpretation, is ‘enough’.
Kalanithi did enough: to live, to care for his family, to do as much as he could in his career, and then: to spend time with newborn daughter.
The book isn’t just about dying. It’s about an overachiever, about how mortality affects relationships, about the pressures of being a doctor, and the challenges for doctors or anyone dealing with death and people who are dying. It’s about the solace of literature and creation, and about legacies, and about life.