Neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi died of metastatic lung cancer at age 37. When he was diagnosed with the disease in 2013, he set out to write a memoir, with his wife Lucy adding an Epilogue after his March, 2015 death. Because of his life and this book, his legacy will be ongoing, and it is our privilege, as readers, to share his final thoughts.
The story of Kalanithi’s life pulls you in right away. He begins with his diagnosis, and then backtracks to his childhood. All the while, he meditates on the meaning of life and death, particularly when he starts practicing medicine, and especially, when he is diagnosed with cancer:
“’I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality, in a sense, had changed nothing and everything,’” he wrote. “Seven words from Samuel Beckett began to repeat in my head: ‘I can’t go on. I’ll go on.’”
His writing is so intimate, so devoid of pretense and social distancing, that by the end, you will feel the devastation of having lost a very close friend, beyond regretting the loss to the world of a genuinely good person.
Evaluation: How do we manage to look death in the eye and face death with integrity? Kalanithi not only tells us, but shows us through the way he lived his final two years after receiving his diagnosis. Many reviews laud this book as life-affirming, and it is. In addition, it is replete with thought-provoking meditations on the meaning of life that have the immediacy and poignancy of one who must answer that question right then, at that moment. The author riffs on literature, shows his sense of humor, and shares many moments of joy. I laughed a lot, but cried more; this book filled me with a profound sadness. Nevertheless, I consider this book to be a must-read, and highly recommend it.
A Few Notes on the Audio Production:
The narrators are both excellent, and made me glad I listened to the book.
Published in hardcover by Penguin Randomhouse, 2016. Audio version available (330 minutes) from Penguin Random House Audio, read by Sunil Malhotra and Cassandra Campbell, with a Foreword by Abraham Verghese, 2016.