Book Review: When Breath Becomes Air

IMG_0445Title: When Breath Becomes Air
Author: Paul Kalanithi
Format: Hardcover
Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ / 5
Quote: “I knew with certainty I would never be a doctor.”

I found it unsettling wanting to read a memoir written by a man who wouldn’t live to see it published yet drawn to his story because he was a brilliant and gifted surgeon, researcher and writer whose short life was spent searching for meaning.  When Breath Becomes Air is the posthumous work of Paul Kalanithi and epilogue by his wife Lucy, that takes us on a deep and personal journey facing his own mortality and learning to live a life with meaning.  After a gruelling decade training to become a neurosurgeon on the cusp of great things, Kalanithi was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer at the young age of thirty-six.

This story is hard to bear.  I was deeply moved by Kalanithi’s dual perspectives both as the doctor and the patient. His story is human and factual, void of self-pity and overflowing with compassion and bravery.  He also shares his marital struggles which come as no surprise with the pressure he and Lucy faced during their residencies.  In a morbid sense the disease strengthens their marriage and they have a child.  I liked this book a lot and came to admire and respect the author.

Dr. Kalanithi opens his memoir certain he would never become a doctor, “I knew medicine only by its absence – specifically, the absence of a father growing up, one who went to work before dawn and returned in the dark to a plate of reheated dinner.” Considering a career as a writer, he earned two degrees in English literature at Stanford before studying medicine at Yale.  Kalanithi wove together his studies in literature and neurosciences connecting the dots between biology, mortality, literature and philosophy, which compelled him to neurosurgery with it’s “unforgiving call to perfection.”  Before getting sick, I found his earlier stories fascinating. The sheer precision required under such exhausting conditions puts into perspective this line of work was truly his calling.

Kalanithi was conflicted with planning the rest of his life uncertain whether he would live a few months, five years or ten years.  When the combination of chemotherapy and long days in surgery were too much to bear he decided to write this book including us in his search for a meaningful life. Kalanithi faced his own mortality with grace, each stage met with a certain vulnerability.

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Book Review: Commonwealth

Commonwealth by Ann PatchettTitle: Commonwealth
Author: Ann Patchett
Format: Paperback
Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️ / 5
Quote: “How did he end up with my life?”

This was my first Ann Patchett book and I was excited to read it but it was not a page turner for me. This story is ridiculously slow. To the author’s credit, I liked her writing style quite a lot and the characters were beautifully developed but unfortunately it fell short on entertaining me. And then, right out of thin air the story line escalated – just like that! This is the kind of book that you come away from needing time to digest. The story spans three generations over 50 years using points of view from different characters, visiting past memories and present day circumstances.  As a latchkey child I connected with these kids on some level because my parents gave me quite a lot of independence too but the big difference is these parents were irresponsible and careless. The modern day helicopter mom must think these parents were neglectful and abusive.

Commonwealth begins in Southern California with two families; Fix and Beverly Keating and Bert and Teresa Cousins. After a chance meeting at Franny Keating’s christening, Bert and Beverly have an affair, divorce their spouses and move to Virginia with Beverly’s children, Franny and Caroline while Bert’s children, Cal, Jeanette, Holly and Albie, remain in California with Teresa during the school year and live with Bert and Beverly during summers. The children spend their summers forging a relationship and coming into their own independence with little supervision from Bert and Beverly. The summers of freedom lead to tragedy, though few details are divulged, and this is the focal point where the plot and characters develop.

After adolescence the children move away from their parents with several years of disconnection between some of the siblings. Franny has a 5-year relationship with author, Leon Posen during which she shares stories from her childhood giving Leo inspiration for his book, Commonwealth. Albie returns after nearly 10 years on Franny’s doorstep with a copy of the book questioning why he’s reading about his own life. This event carries the reader thru a journey visiting each sibling in adulthood and the affects from the divorce, neglect and that fateful day all those summers ago.

Book Review: Dark Matter

Dark Matter by Blake CrouchTitle: Dark Matter
Author: Blake Crouch
Format: eBook
Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ / 5
Quote: “If there are infinite worlds, how do I find the one that is uniquely, specifically mine?”

I was quickly injected into this fast-paced mish-mash of science fiction / thriller / love story of a read. I couldn’t put this book down and when I wasn’t reading it I was thinking about when I was going to read it next. I felt such a connection to Jason Dessen as he entered infinite worlds under finite time constraints to reunite with his wife and son. The vials, the box, the multiverse theory, every twist was emotionally engaging.

Science fiction is a relatively new genre for me so this book was outside of my comfort zone. My connection to the main character, Jason was intense from the start where the story opens up with him as a family man; physics professor, husband to Daniella and father to their son Charlie. One evening Jason steps out for a quick drink with a friend before dinner. On his way home he is abducted, knocked unconscious and awakens surrounded by men in hazmat suits welcoming him back to a life where he is a genius who created the impossible. The life he knew is no longer, Daniella is not his wife and Charlie was never born. This is the point where you move to the edge of your seat and hold on because you are going on a wild ride where things you never thought possible are going to happen.

Book Review: Wenjack

Wenjack by Joseph BoydenTitle: Wenjack
Author: Joseph Boyden
Format: Paperback
Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ / 5
Quote: “One day I will run. One day they won’t hurt me anymore,” – Chanie Wenjack

This is the kind of story that elicits feelings of heartbreak for the Aboriginal people affected and shame for a system that allowed abusive treatment towards these children. Joseph Boyden so eloquently brings the atrocities of residential schools to the forefront, a subject we have only recently began to understand and try to reconcile and above all learn from our past mistakes.  Chanie runs away from school to return to his family.  During his journey home the author injects points of view from the Manitous – crow, hummingbird, owl and others.

No child should ever be ripped from his or her family and forced to endure abuse as a measure to assimilate to a different culture. Were we really so dim as to think this method wouldn’t have damaging effects on these children? For those who survived and returned to their families their lives were ruined, the ones who didn’t survive were sent home when convenient, often weeks later in a casket.

The subject matter of this book is heavy but it’s written so beautifully that it should be mandatory reading in our education system so our children can see that mistakes of this magnitude can never be made right.

Book Review: The Vanishing Year

The Vanishing Year by Kate MorettiTitle: The Vanishing Year
Author: Kate Moretti
Format: eBook
Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ / 5
Quote: “Are you a woman, so be lovely;
As you are lovely, so be various,
Merciful as constant, constant as various.
So be mine, as I yours for ever.”

Page-turner alert! This story covered what I love in a good book: twisty thriller, suspense in all the right places, and a woman trying to find herself amidst deep danger. The author brilliantly created an uneasiness in her writing tone putting you on your guard as you turned the pages.  Yes this is a typical suspense / thriller but the author did a good job introducing plot twists that kept me guessing right up to the end.

Zoe Whittaker has a new life. She’s married to Henry Whittaker, big shot financier, living life amongst Manhattan’s social elite, involved in charitable work and wants for nothing.  But Zoe is not who everyone thinks she is or so it seems.  Five years earlier she was Hilary Lawlor, a penniless drug pusher who witnesses a crime and goes into hiding to safe her life.  She flees California for a fresh start leaving behind her memories of school, friends, and her mother while carrying with her guilt for not having the means to provide a proper memorial for her mother’s cremated remains.  Life with Henry is perfect until a string of events re-opens the floodgates of fear and danger from Zoe’s past.  She digs deeper into the past she thought she left behind only to find another version she never knew.  With no family to help Zoe sort thru the mystery she secretly searches for answers while Henry’s temperament becomes mercurial.  How long can Zoe run before her past catches her?