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The Mystery of Breathing: A Novel

"The Mystery of Breathing charts the complexity of relationships with compassion, wisdom, and humor. With her sharp eye for detail and her deep knowledge of the human heart, Perri Klass has written an absorbing, intelligent novel that is as powerful as it is moving." — Alice Hoffman

"This is an unforgettable book — haunting and true . . . In Dr. Maggie Claymore, Klass has given us one of the great female characters, a woman who is strong and brilliant, yet who struggles on the most human level with the desires that we all share, for love, success and dignity . . . The Mystery of Breathing is both deeply felt and compellingly rendered. I could not put it down." — Dr. Jamie Weisman

About the Book

An ambitious and successful doctor's reputation and possibly her entire life hang in the balance in this medical drama set in a bustling Boston hospital. Dr. Maggie Claymore works in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (where emergency is the norm), caring for the smallest and sickest patients in the world — premature babies so profoundly ill that others might give up on them. Maggie is deeply dedicated and competent, time and again bringing her delicate wards back from the edge of death, even when their survival may mean a lifetime of debility.

When Maggie receives a threatening, anonymous letter questioning her ethics and calling her credentials into question, she is disturbed but able (at first) to dismiss the accusations. In time her accuser goes public, posting malicious signs around the hospital implicating Maggie in a child's death. Her vexation turns to rage when the investigation and chaos that follow causes the hospital's professional and administrative staffs to regard her with a skeptical eye. Eventually, her professional troubles affect her personal life as well, and so her entire world — until this point so orderly and firmly on a professional track — begins to unravel.

The Mystery of Breathing grew out of a disturbing experience Dr. Perri Klass had in the 1980s, when she was in her early thirties and a pediatric intern at Boston's Children's Hospital. Although she had already gained considerable respect, she became, much to her dismay, the target of an anonymous enemy on a vicious campaign to smear and ruin her reputation. Her unknown nemesis sent letters accusing her of plagiarism and medical incompetence to doctors and head nurses all over the hospital and eventually even hung pictures of her in the children's ward, warning parents against allowing her to treat their children.

As inherently dramatic as its setting is, The Mystery of Breathing is mainly about character — precisely what one might expect from an author as elegant and insightful as Perri Klass — and how various kinds of people operate in highly competitive and stressful environments.

About the Author

Perri Klass is a practicing pediatrician, an acclaimed author of fiction and nonfiction, and a prize-winning journalist. Her fiction includes two novels, Recombinations and Other Women's Children, and two collections of short stories, I Am Having an Adventure and Love and Modern Medicine. She has also written two collections of essays about medicine, A Not Entirely Benign Procedure: Four Years as a Medical Student and Baby Doctor: A Pediatrician's Training. Klass is the medical director of the national literacy program Reach Out and Read, dedicated to promoting literacy as part of pediatric primary care. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with Larry Wolff, a professor of history at Boston College, and their children.

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