When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, foreword by Abraham Verghese [in Library Journal]
In his sublime “foreword [that] might be better thought of as an afterword,” physician and bestselling author Abraham Verghese reveals that he came to know Paul Kalanithi “most intimately when he’d ceased to be.” That, too, is true of every listener here. Neurosurgeon Kalanithi died in March 2015 from lung cancer at the age of 37 and was, by all accounts, an exceptional human being. This posthumous release – most simply put – is an exquisite treatise on how to live. And his final words? A simple evocation of joy intended for his baby daughter.
“Be ready,” Verghese urges, “see what it is to still live. Listen to Paul.”
Air just might be veteran narrator Cassandra Campbell’s most affecting narration ever: possibly never again will her voice cause such an instantaneous reaction. The transition from protean Sunil Malhotra, who reads the main work, to Campbell reading Kalanithi’s widow Lucy’s lengthy epilogue signals that Kalanithi is truly gone. The book’s first paragraph warned you, and yet the actual voice change will break listeners’ hearts.
Verdict: In words and narration, in death and in hope, Kalanithi deserves the same reverent admiration as Oliver Sacks, Joan Didion, and Randy Pausch.
Review: modified from “Audio,” Library Journal, March 15, 2016