Growing up I had three favorite titles in Swedish: Varats olidliga lätthet (The unbearable lightness of being) Den allvarsamma leken (The serious game) Allt som är fast förflyktigas (All that is solid melts into air)
The “unbearable” and “all that is solid” works OK as titles in English, but are nowhere close to otherworldliness that I think the Swedish titles manages to capture. “The serious game” has no relation to the original Swedish title at all, it is as if Google-translate did the work.
I came to think of these book titles as I think “When breath becomes air” could have been included in that list. A list of titles that all manages to capture moments where the trivial meet the truly profound. Perhaps it was the title that got me reading the whole book.
The book reminded me of the kind of book that you tend to appreciate when you are young and look for simple stories where nothing beside yourself matters.
Reading this book I was waiting for any reflection beyond the narrow egoistic that exist in relation to career and close family. I could not find any and it for me this turned the reading into a depressing read.
Obviously when someone relatively young dies there are parts that are extremely sad. And I found his wife last pages the most touching and honest.
Beside the lack of broader reflections the book is also filled with choices that could be seen as very controversial, or at least not obvious. From the professional when Paul goes back to work while not being on top (and almost faint during an operation where he needs to hand over the operation) to deciding to become a father (when he knows that he is very likely to die very soon).
For me it feels a bit strange to know that someone who just told you that they can destroy a persons life if they cut two millimeter to far see no problem with putting sharp objects in a patients brain when they know that they have brain tumor and are not well. There might be a good explanation for this, maybe there where no other person who could have done that operation so that it was a calculated risk. But it would have been nice with some discussions about the ethical choices.
I do not say that any of the decisions above are wrong, but the lack of reflection of how his action affects others makes the book feel very immature.
Part of me feels that those who appreciate a book like this might have quite empty lives and for such readers it must feel good knowing that someone who know that they will die soon are not doing anything more significant when it comes to action and thinking. Maybe it is just my frustration as I hope that someone close to death would ask more fundamental questions about life and the society we live in.
I’m also curious how I would view Peter Noll’s “In the face of death” now 26 year later. The theme is similar, but I remember the discussion much more profound when it comes to our relation to death.