‘When Breath Becomes Air’ – Book Review

“I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”
         – Samuel Beckett

Recently, I have got into a bad habit of putting my alarm on two snoozes and then finally putting it off without waking up. It’s all because of my nocturnal habits and the recent fancies with Tia Espresso. I need to change all this. With this over-powering thought, one night I decided to go to bed early so I could get up and become a ‘Five A.M. club member’ promoted by motivational speaker and author Robin Sharma. Well, I was in my bed early but couldn’t get sleep so tossing and turning I lay my hands on the book that my hubby had just finished reading. It was ‘When Breath Becomes Air’ by Paul Kalanithi.

Forewords in the books are always meant to raise your interest in the book, but this one by Abraham Verghese, setting the context of Paul’s story and life was so impactful that when it ended with “Let me not stand between you and Paul,” I really could not stop.

The book is written by Paul Kalanithi, 36 years old on the verge of completing a decade worth of training as a neurosurgeon, died of stage IV lung cancer. Confronted with death while being a doctor himself, he has presented his own story and how things can change in life – one day a doctor and next day a terminal patient. He has highlighted the paramount truth of the world and that is, “death”. “It is the only fact about the world, like the distance from the sun to the earth”, he wrote in his book.

The way Paul has written this book, it never feels like he is not in this world but he is directly talking to you, opening up about his life, sharing his experience and the vast knowledge and not to miss his rich literary sense that comes from his innumerable readings.

He gives us the picture of the medical world and even simplifies the medical terms for us readers. He highlights that technical excellence is not enough but what is more important is the human relationship between doctor and the patient. He has presented various accounts of the need to establish human connection and how he would instil the trust in his patients.

He believed that if saving lives is the job of a doctor then guiding the patient or family to understand death or illness – as everyone dies eventually – is also his responsibility. Having lived the life of a doctor, treating and advising patients, he also presents the grim reality of how he faced death both as a physician and a patient.

Paul not just shares his observations in this book but he also gives account of his life events. He ironically mentions that cancer succeeded in saving his marriage at the least. This makes me think that how we fight or develop hatred for one another until something unfortunate happens to them and all those fights become meaningless but their life.

The Prologue by Paul and the Epilogue written by his wife Lucy in the book will burst you into tears. The book is moving and focuses on the reality of life. Death is a fact which is unsettling for us. We don’t want to accept it. Instead we fight, abuse, become greedy or sad. So, if life is unpredictable then why not just spend time being happy and create beautiful memoirs. Just like Paul did by writing this book which I think is his beautiful gift to the world.

As the back cover reads, “rattling, heart-breaking and ultimately beautiful”, it is every bit all of it and more, a must read for everyone.

I still start crying whenever I put myself in his place, not by the things he tells us in the book but the ones he does not say. How he must have felt that when his life was taking off, this happened to him. As he says somewhere:

“My life up until my illness could be understood as the linear sum of my choices. As in most modern narratives, a character’s fate depended on human actions, his and others.”

“But now I lived in a different world, a more ancient one, where human action paled against superhuman forces, a world that was more Greek tragedy than Shakespeare.”

Aah, it kills me all these lines, when I read it and again when I am re-reading it.

As he continues, his doctor tells him “This is not the end.” “Or even the beginning of the end. This is just the end of the beginning”, but he knows it is the “end of the beginning.”

Still he does not make you feel pity for him, he is still the doctor till the end, handling the difficult detail -in this case his own- ever so carefully and making you share his pain like a friend, family.

This is my tribute to Paul.

Beautiful, beautiful book, must read for everyone.

Book Review_Ms. Singh Posts

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BOOK REVIEW- ‘A Spool of Blue Thread’

There are books that you read and want to keep reading it, as if it should never come to an end. ‘A Spool of Blue Thread’ is one such book. It’s a story about us, about our family and our everyday life. The author Anne Tyler has done a fabulous job in terms of her narration and making you feel a part of her story. No wonder it was short-listed for The Man Booker Prize 2015.

Before I proceed with the review, I must inform you that I have not yet finished reading the entire book. There are 465 pages in this book and I have stopped on page 275 with tears rolling down my cheeks, and compelled to share with you that how good this book is. It makes me have no control on my emotions. The way the characters are portrayed and circumstances presented, I just can’t stop feeling about it. You live through its pages. So far the book has kept me hooked and my emotions over-flowing. And of course, I will finish reading the book tonight.

So, the book is about a family with which you can relate so much that it feels it’s almost your story, your own family story. And maybe you will also pick up a character that is like you.  Like I could relate to quite a few characters with instances like when one of the children complains that his mother did not give him the much needed attention in her life, which she did but how as children we don’t realise it.

To me one of the other very relatable things in the book was about the family stories that travelled down through the generations. In fact there are popular stories in every family about our grandparents and even their parents that each family member hears them being told and retold any number of times. These are the stories that define a family. Here too in the book, these two stories are the very defining and quintessential for its members.

Later in the book, you learn more about the problems in the family and how each member tries to solve it in their own way. Each character is well defined and you would be able to relate further more with circumstances. The book succeeds in narrating stories of three generation.

At one place when one of the daughters Jeannie cries out saying “Oh, that makes me want to cry” on seeing another family at their beach vacation, it fills my heart with emotion. It certainly reminds me of how I have grown up looking up at my neighbours and how the same changes were seen in their families too. Their mother and father who were young at one time now have grey hair with change in facial muscles. Their kids have grown up as young adults and even their daughters now have husbands, just as my sister and I have. “Well, they’re us, in a way,” is one of the delicate yet painful lines.

Then comes the most touching part in the book. And that’s about how our lives should end with a goodbye. How we all think that we should be attended by someone before leaving this world. But life and death have their strange ways; they come unannounced and not as planned. People leave without saying a final ‘Bye’ to their loved ones.

It’s a light and easy read. You wouldn’t get bored but would want to know more with every flip of the page. I must say that it makes sense for every family to read this book as it will help understand situations and answer the unanswered questions in families.

5 Stars, totally recommended for every kind of reader.

A Murder In The House

Call it the effect of reading thriller novels of Ian Rankin or the investigative series of ‘The Killing’ or the hit sensational crime stories on one of Indian TV channels ‘Crime Patrol’. I really don’t know which one of these had the impact but I have been imagining stories and that too crime stories with my eyes open.

I know it’s scary. But that is how ideas are formed.

So, here is the story……….

“Hello Mum, how are you?” said Anita on the phone tugged between her ear and shoulder. She listened a moment. “It’s been so long I haven’t seen you. Are you free to do a Skype now?” she said.

“Cool thing,” said. “I am going to connect now”

She hung up.

It was Anita’s mother on the other end of the phone. She had been out of city on a month-long business trip due to which she could barely talk much to her Mum, is how she addressed her. Except for the two times when she called home but then it was always a late night call. She would just ask about her parent’s well-being and then doze off as she had to get up early the next morning for meetings.

Today, Anita was back home in her one bedroom and hall apartment where she lived alone. She worked in a multi-national IT firm and held a reputable position. Going by looks she was smart and her nature had the charm which attracted many.

“Oh Mum, so nice to see you,” said Anita as she connected on Skype with her Mum. She lifted her laptop from the centre table on to her lap and took a moment and said “It’s been a month I didn’t see you Mum. And Papa is he home?”

All this while, Anita’s Mum was quiet as if trying to capture as much of her daughter as she could. And that was obvious as she was seeing her daughter after a long time.

“How was your trip dear?” asked her Mum finally.

“It was awesome Mum,” she replied while getting up to answer her mobile phone that was now ringing.

“Hello.” “Hello”. “Hello”. A brief pause.

First there was no answer and then the person on the other end hung up.

Crazy people, they just call and don’t talk, she murmured to herself.

“Work call, Anita?” asked her Mum.

“No, wrong number,” she responded.

Anita now back on her sofa talked to her mother about the trip and how brilliantly she managed the team presentation. She also told about a wonderful guy who she met on the trip. Her mother like a keen child paid undivided attention to her and with every sentence her daughter would finish, she would drop a word of praise.

Anita being the only daughter was the apple of her parent’s eyes. Her father, owner of a business in textiles had invested good amount in her studies. But he never wanted his daughter to pursue her career away from her family. This created a rift between the two. On the other hand, Anita had always felt that apart from money, her father never gave her Mum and her the quality time. And with every passing year, the father-daughter grew more apart and had few conversations. Most times, Anita’s mother acted as the means of communication between them.

“Aah, see who is here?” said Anita’s Mum. “It’s a surprise that you are early tonight. Did you have pre-monitions that Anita would call?” she said now facing away from her computer in the opposite direction of the room where Anita’s father was standing.

Anita’s father was a workaholic and would come home from his office only after midnight. He liked to spend most of his time at his firm and be involved in most matters concerning the firm. He had built his business from scratch from a meagre amount and established it to a present day empire.

“Hello Anita, good to see you,” said her father as he came towards the table where her Mum was seated. It was a hello said in a manner which did not necessitate a response. He briefly patted his wife’s shoulder as if making a hint and moved away from the PC towards his bed in the same room.

A moment of silence fell in the room on both sides. Anita seemed perplexed. Well, it was the rarest thing to see her father this early and now that he was home it meant her Mum would have to shut the PC down and cease the conversation. Her Mum was already bidding bye with her eyes. And Anita with her lips half open was contemplating to say something.

Just then Anita’s door-bell rang.

“Who could it be so late at night?” asked her mother.

“I had ordered food from out Mum. I will go quickly get it but I have to say something. Please stay for a while,” said Anita.

Anita quickly got up from the sofa and kept the laptop on the centre table facing the sofa on which she was sitting. She went towards side table in the living room, dipped her hand in her purse and pulled out some cash. Calculating the amount, she moved towards the door and pressed the latch on the door. The door opened.

The burble at the distance from the door to Anita’s laptop on the table which was still connected to her Mum’s PC suggested some kind of protest. Her mother sensed something and started to panic. With every passing minute she grew impatient thinking of what could be the noise about. “What’s the noise, what’s the noise,” she kept saying fidgeting with her PC trying to capture the slightest glimpse of her daughter’s room.

“Muuummm,” came a choking voice of Anita as she fell on the sofa she was sitting on earlier. Her body was in a pool of blood and her body, now lying on the sofa stayed still with her Mum staring at the screen with great horror reflected on her face.

“Aayyyyeee, no, no, no,” screamed her mother. “See what’s happened to my daughter. Are you listening?”

Her father who felt a sudden shock was now on his feet rushed towards his wife and peeked into the PC from her behind. Feeling the chill in his veins, he shouted “Help! Help! Help!” “My daughter.” “Somebody please.” “Anita, Anita.” “Dear get up.”

Suddenly a hand comes on the screen of the laptop and shuts it down.

*****

Well, the story does not end here. But the thing is I have been able to imagine it only till here. The interesting part is that I have a few options of ending the story but I am still not sure which one to use. I will post the ending in my next post.

But, if you can think of any other ending or ideas, do suggest.

How to read, and read more books?

“All I have learned, I learned from books.”- Abraham Lincoln

I am sure most of us have at some point wanted to read more. But most often than not, we don’t make any progress on it. ‘Read more books’ is an un-missable item on almost everybody’s New Year resolution. The excitement may lead to buying a new book or something even as fancy as kindle. But soon after the first month the enthusiasm fizzles and the book is shut. Come next year, we put it up again as our New Year resolution.

If you have been in this boat, here are few of my tips to read more books. Read on.

Book Selection
It’s often that we pick up a wrong book to read and that makes us drag through or loathe reading altogether. Examples – I know many who pick up “Mein Kampf” or “The Monk who Sold his Ferrari” and then you know what happens.
So how to select books? Well, the best bet here would be to select a light read which would also be light in weight. A thicker book initially can be a bit intimidating for an infrequent reader. I am not even suggesting reading a classic at this stage. In fact, ask someone who knows you well suggest books to you. Going through a short summary and reviews of the book on the internet is another way.
My personal choice is to look up for the books that ‘my idols’ or those people whose intellect I admire have read. Still if you happen to pick up a book not palatable to your taste buds, it’s always a good idea to say goodbye for now; you can always try that later.

Plan Your Reading
Okay, so now you have selected your book and you kind of like it, so how to make sure you finish it. Try to read at least one page every day. Now for this reason, you must always have it at close proximity. A book by your bed side or on the couch of your living room will always make you pick it up. Personally, I like to read a book just before bedtime. Also, try carrying a book on your everyday work commute, long haul flights, holiday travel, or just anywhere. But do make a conscious effort to pull it out of our bag.

Set A Goal
If you like taking up challenges then this is for you. Plan the number of days when you think you will finish the book, and then divide the total number of pages by the number of days. You will get the number of pages you should read every day. Let’s say if there are 200 pages in a book and you plan to finish it in 10 days then 200/10 equals to 20 pages per day. Two weeks is a fair amount of time for 200-300 page books. And be reasonable with yourself in setting your goal.

Give It Some Time
Read at least the first 30-40 pages of a book before you decide to chuck it. It happens that even the most popular books will not read interesting in the beginning because these first few pages are devoted to setting the stage, introducing the characters. The story most of the times will start with the context of these first few pages and things will start becoming interesting.

Buy A Book
There are times when we have to wait for someone or something at malls, airports or simply anywhere on the streets. Try to make most of this time by waiting at nearby book store. If you are a frequent flyer then do make an effort to go to the book shop and may be buy a book to read in the flight. This will also add to your travel memory. Also, it’s always good to buy a physical book than reading a downloadable material on e-reader.

Below are few of my recent favourites which I have read and enjoyed:
Carry on Jeeves (By PG Wodehouse)
The Girl with the dragon Tattoo (By Steig Lrasson)
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (By Mark Haddon)
Family Life (By Akhil Sharma)
Barbie and Ruth (By Robin Gerber)

So, I hope that these few tips are of some help to you. And do share your book recommendations in the comments.