Book Review: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Autobiography

My dad came across a tweet by Mr. Bill Gates a few weeks back, praising this book. He was so moved by the tweet and the review of the book by Mr. Gates, that he decided to immediately buy the book for me. Although, this might be one of those rare occasions where he actually read the book before I did!

This book is about a highly accomplished and ambitious man who had trained in neurosurgery for many years, and just as he was about to finish his residency, found out that he had terminal lung cancer. As someone that went to multiple elite schools, pursued degrees in literature, psychology and neurosurgery, and always wanted to write a book, Paul decided to write the book about his own journey and life lessons before his disease robbed him of the opportunity to do so.

After reading the book for the first time a few days ago, I was confused about what the message behind the autobiography was. Doesn’t everyone die eventually? Isn’t every death tragic? Why does this particular story matter? This was partly the reason that I did not write a review of this book right away; I couldn’t decide what the book was trying to convey.

As I pondered it further, I realized that this book was really about Paul’s pursuit of the greater good and how he dealt with unfinished business. An obviously exceptional student, with a list of enviable accomplishments, about to finish the first critical chapter of his journey, only to find out that his will be an unfinished dream.

The author portrayed exceptionally well his struggle between doing what he loved, and making sure that he was doing it well despite his deteriorating condition holding him back. A lot of Paul’s friends had dropped out of medical school, unable to handle the stress that came with becoming a surgeon, but Paul had embraced the challenge only to have a terminal disease rob him of a very bright future.

When Paul first found out he had cancer, he had initially wanted to continue his residency because he had worked so hard for it. Being a neurosurgeon was difficult enough but performing complex surgeries with debilitating stage four lung cancer was no ordinary undertaking. The internal tussle that Paul went through before finally accepting that he could no longer work was heartbreaking. The book does an amazing job of not only describing his professional struggles, but also his personal ones in parallel. Lucy, his supportive partner, stood by his side, as they tackled one difficult decision after another including one about starting a family while Paul was terminally ill.

The amazing story that Paul Kalanithi writes about finding his way in the world and learning to cope with having everything taken away from him is truly one to read. As Mr. Gates so aptly pens – “All lives have equal value. But some deaths seem particularly cruel.”

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If you would like to read this book (YES!), you can purchase it here: When Breath Becomes Air

An analysis of short stories by Maxim Gorky

Alexei Maximovich Peshkov, primarily known as Maxim Gorky, was a Russian author who wrote during the realist era. His writings mainly focused on political topics and strongly opposed the Tsar, which was uncommon for writers of that era. Some other peculiar features of Gorky’s works included the fact that, beyond being politically unique, they were simply considered “strange” for his time period.

Gorky, by many authors is currently considered a Marxist Feminist, because a lot of his works hinged on the idea that for women to truly be equal to men, they would have to first revolt against the government and eradicate capitalism in its entirety. Only then would they be able to free themselves from the oppression of society. This idea was prevalent in his short story titled “Mother”, where he discussed the role of women, especially the elderly, in revolutions.

I don’t wholeheartedly agree with the idea that Gorky was a Marxist-Feminist, because in a lot of his stories, such as “Twenty-six Men and A Girl”, Gorky seems to emphasize the idea that women will always be considered inferior to men, no matter what sort of world we live in.

Here’s an excerpt of the essay that I wrote on this topic:

        Gorky shows that even in a world where men are working and a girl has the freedom to visit them every day, she will still be objectified by them and has no capacity to be subject to change. This idea is shown when Gorky talks about the perpetual state of the world in his stories, with phrases that reference the fact that the world is going nowhere, and that people being stuck in their professions and social classes is always inevitable. This is a rather large contrast from Marxist-feminism because here Gorky is accepting the fact that women will never be accepted as equals to men, rather than encouraging them to reject capitalist ideals because that is what is imprisoning them in reality.

The Gorky stories that I read included: Twenty-six Men and A Girl, Karamora, Notch, and The Affair of The Clasps. I also read one of Gorky’s essays titled “Soviet Intellectuals”, which discussed the conflict between the bourgeois and the proletariat, which were the two largest social classes at the time. He also impressed upon the reader the importance of perspective- the contrast between a hummock view and a point of view.

All in all, Gorky was one of the most unusual writers of his time where he voiced unpopular opinions and criticized governments and their ideals, and although his writing was under wide criticism, some of his ideas did shape literary history.

If you would like to read these stories, you can purchase them here: The Collected Short Stories of Maxim Gorky

Book Review: Chokher Bali by Rabindranath Tagore

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction

Age Recommended: 14 and up

This book was not one that I could finish in one sitting, just because of the sheer density and length of the book. I felt that the author could possibly have gotten the point across in fewer pages, even though the story was unique, and different from most that I have been reading.

I felt that the main character is blatantly sexist on multiple occasions, which is probably an accurate reflection of the time period this story is based in.

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Mahendra is a young man who refuses to marry until he meets his close friend’s fiancee and insists on marrying her.

Ashalata is a newly married but uneducated girl who wants nothing more than to please her husband, Mahendra.

Binodini is a very young woman who was recently widowed, and has to come to live in Mahendra’s house to keep Asha company while Mahendra is away studying.

However, Mahendra is a very fickle man who soon finds himself “in love” with Binodini, who thinks that this whole arrangement is inappropriate. Moreover, Mahendra’s mother is increasingly jealous of the female attention that he is receiving and attempts to devise plans to get rid of the two girls.

Binodini knows that Asha is too naive and innocent to be taken advantage of, and attempts to discourage Mahendra from pursuing herself, but the man who believes he’s in love again will stop at nothing to gain Binodini’s attention.

If you would like to read this book, you can purchase it here: Chokher Bali (English and Bengali Edition)

Book Review: Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Time period: Realism

This is another book that I just finished in English class. I generally would not recommend this book to people who do not like dense reading, although the book isn’t very long. Fathers and Sons was written in 1862, during the realist era, and as such, focuses a lot on science and the different philosophical ideas arising during this time. The books explores nihilist ideals as well as an increased focus on science, which seems to be a recurring theme during this time period.

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Arkady and Bazarov are visiting Arkady’s father at his manor in a province in Russia. Arkady’s father welcomes the two boys into his home but his brother, Pavel, is taken aback by the introduction of nihilism, which both of the young boys seem to support.

After a few days home, Bazarov and Arkady go to a dance where Arkady meets a wealthy widow named Anna Odinstova. Originally infatuated with her, Arkady talks with her about many things, including Bazarov. Anna then invites the two of them over, but to Arkady’s dismay, talks only to Bazarov and dismisses Arkady to entertain her sister, Katya.

Not long after this does Bazarov realize that he has feelings for Anna. But Bazarov’s strong nihilist ideals and disbelief in love, and Anna’s unwillingness to fall in love again sets up obstacles that may never go away.

If you would like to read this book, you can purchase it here: Fathers and Sons (Oxford World’s Classics)

Book Review: La Vida es Sueño by Pedro Calderón de la Barca

Hey everyone! Sorry that I haven’t posted at all for a very long time but I got caught up with a lot of work and also had a lot of debate tournaments in the last few months. Here’s the next book review!

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction

Age Recommended: 14 and up

This book was part of a reading assignment that I had in English class recently. I enjoyed it immensely because of the way the author made the reader sympathize with the main character’s situation, even though he was portrayed in a bad light. This book was actually written during the Renaissance period around 1635 and was one of the more famous Spanish works.

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Segismundo has been trapped in a dungeon simce he was born. “A man among beasts and a beast among men”, he has nowhere to go and nobody to talk to except his jailer, Clotaldo.

However, one day, a young woman, Rosaura, and her servant stumble upon Segismundo when searching for a person. Segismundo immediately falls in love with Rosaura, with her being the first person that he has ever seen besides Clotaldo. He professes that since seeing her is death, not seeing her would give him something far worse, life, because giving life to an unfortunate man is like giving death to a fortunate one.

“pero véate yo y muera;
que no sé, rendido ya,
si el verte muerte me da.
el no verte qué me diera.
fuera, más que muerte fiera,
ira, rabia, y dolor fuerte;
fuera vida; de esta suerte
su rigor he ponderado,
pues, dar vida a un desdichado
es dar a un dichoso muerte.”

Soon after, Segismundo is freed from his jail cell as a test to see if he can control himself out of shackles or not. If he can, he will be King. But if not, he will see nothing but darkness for the rest of his days.

If you would like to read this book, you can purchase it here – this is a dual language version with both English and Spanish: Life Is a Dream/La Vida es Sueño

Book Review: When You Never Said Goodbye by Meg Kearney

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Genre: Realistic Fiction

Age Recommended: 13 and up

This book was an ARC, courtesy of NetGalley

I didn’t really enjoy this book, because while it was a good story and has well developed characters, I felt that the author tried too hard to drag the story out. Even though this book was the third in a series and I easily understood it without having read the first two.



Liz’s adoptive father has just passed away, which is making her more eager than ever to find her birth mother. After saying goodbye to her mother after another long Christmas, Liz goes back to college with her mission fresh in mind.

When Liz begins investigating her birth mother, all she hits are dead ends. Most people aren’t willing to help her, and those who are willing don’t know how to. Liz finally learns tiny details about her mother through untold sources and begins to piece together an image which she believes to resemble her mother.

However, when a lady finally approaches Liz, claiming to have information about her birth mother, Liz isn’t entirely sure if she wants to know anymore.

Will she eventually find her birth mother?

If you would like to read this book, you can preorder it here: When You Never Said Goodbye: An Adoptee’s Search for Her Birth Mother: A Novel in Poems and Journal Entries

Book Review: The Celtic Dagger by Jill Patterson (A Fitzjohn Mystery)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Genre: Mystery

Age Recommended: 12 and up

This book wasn’t very engaging, and had new characters introduced very often that didn’t always add to the book. Moreover, near the end of the book, it suddenly became very disturbing as a murderer was revealed, and I found it difficult to continue reading.



Fitzjohn is about to leave for a well-deserved break when he’s guilt-tripped into solving one more case.

A man had just been murdered with two stabs to his neck and back. Moreover, the dagger that had been used to kill him had been reported as missing, along with two other artifacts that were later found in his house, and his colleague’s house.

As Fitzjohn works this case, he learns that this man’s main rival was his own brother, James, who didn’t see eye-to-eye with anything the dead man had once said. With all clues pointing to James, the police are ready to apprehend him as soon as evidence is found.

However, when more people are attacked, and James’ alibi  holds, the police must start looking for the real murderer, and fast.

Will they find the murderer?

If you would like to read this book, you can purchase it here: The Celtic Dagger: A Fitzjohn Mystery (Volume 1)