This was the first book I read this year way back in January, and I had just had my daughter (she turns one this week!) and it really just gave me a lot of feelings, and I didn’t know how to write them all in a book review, so I put it off to “let it settle” and whoooooops now it’s December! Hi guys!
This is a feelings book. It is grim, but it is also optimistic and lovely and hopeful.
Kalanthi was 36 and just finishing residency as a neurosurgeon when he was diagnosed with lung cancer. He was a star student with a lovely young wife and his whole life ahead of him. The cancer was bad. Terminal. This is his memoir – of his philosophical reasons to go into medicine; of his pain and confusion of the diagnosis; the irony of being a surgeon who, in the blink of an eye, becomes a patient; of the big, awful, beautiful questions of life: can we, should we have a baby when I’m about to die? How do you accept treatment from a doctor when you have always been the doctor? What do you do when your future is erased? How do you treat a disease while also accepting that it will likely kill you?
Honestly, I didn’t love the writing all the time. There were parts early in the book, during his philosophical musings about what kind of medicine to pursue in his career, that were very late-night-on-the-quad and felt weirdly indulgent–or maybe just poorly edited? I’m not sure but I was glad when the book shifted its focus and pondered the big, big questions and dealt with the absurdity and beauty of dealing with the mundane when the existential hangs over your head.
It’s pretty easy to read, for a philosophical book that drops some big Philosophy Ides and ponders them in good faith. The prose is direct and honest–not amazing, which is kind of nice. The style made it more approachable, for what could have been a very un-approachable topic.
Mostly, though the work as a whole is just brimming with love and hope and honesty, and the way he and his wife and daughter embrace life while he gradually fades away, well. It wasn’t just the postpartum hormones making me cry.