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Cutting for Stone – Book Review

The world turns on our every action, and our every omission, whether we know it or not. – from Cutting For Stone –

Shiva and Marion Praise Stone come into the world as identical twins attached at the skull. Their father, a British surgeon living in Ethiopia, abandons them within moments of their birth, and their mother (a nun who kept her pregnancy secret from everyone) dies without holding them in her arms. The two brothers are raised in and around the  hospital in which they are born. Called Missing. a misspelling of the intended name Mission, its name coincides with one of the major themes of the novel: missing people, missing fathers, missing clues, etc… Abraham Verghese’s sprawling family saga spans nearly fifty years and takes the readers from Ethiopia, to New York, to Boston, and back to the small village in Africa where the story first began.

Marion narrates the novel, taking the reader back to when his mother first makes her voyage to Africa as a young first novitiate of the Carmelite Order of Madras. While traveling there she meets Thomas Stone, a skilled British surgeon, and the first glimmerings of their love begin. In the first part of the book, the reader is introduced to Matron (Missing’s wise leader), Hema (a gynecologist who becomes the boys’ adoptive mother), Ghosh (a warm and caring doctor who imbues Marion with the desire to become a surgeon), Rosina (the boys’ nursemaid), and Genet (Rosina’s young daughter who steals Marion’s heart). Once the characters have been established, the novel moves forward building on the lives of the characters and pulling the reader into their stories.

Verghese’s debut novel is centered around the twins who although are physically identical, are very different people. Their connection as brothers is tested throughout the book, and although the reader sees their relationship through only the eyes of Marion, it is a compelling look at siblings, specifically twins.

He was the rake, and I the erstwhile virgin; he the genius who acquired knowledge effortlessly while I toiled in the night for the same mastery; he the famous fistula surgeon, and I just another trauma surgeon. Had we switched roles, it wouldn’t have mattered one bit to the universe. – from Cutting for Stone –

Cutting for Stone is a big, wonderful saga about love, fate, search for identity, and the passion that drives one to pursue their life’s work. The lives of the characters find a natural rhythm in the setting of Ethiopia, a country which has faced coups, military dictatorship, and instability. Verghese captures the beauty of Ethiopia’s countryside, as well as the colorful personalities of its citizens.

In many ways, Verghese’s voice is similar to another great writer – that of John Irving. His ability to bring to life quirky characters while fleshing out complex ideas, his meandering plot which spans decades, and his probing into father/son relationships all made me think of Irving’s work. It is no wonder that I immediately became embroiled in the novel and did not want it to end. I was not surprised when in the acknowledgments at the end of the book Verghese gives a nod to Irving’s friendship and wisdom.

Cutting for Stone is one of those books which is impossible to put down. Here is a lush, emotional, intelligent and compelling novel written by an accomplished story teller.  I loved that Verghese, a physician himself, wrote a novel about two generations of doctors and was able to capture the passion of medicine. By placing the story mostly in a small African village, Verghese is able to show that the physician’s greatest gift is not found in technology, but in his or her ability to provide comfort.

I loved this book and its characters (who felt like living, breathing people to me). I loved the journey. Abraham Verghese has written a gorgeous novel which deserves to be savored. Readers who love hefty family sagas in the style of John Irving, and are drawn to literary fiction will enjoy this book.

Highly recommended.

*FTC Disclosure: This book was sent to me by the publisher for review on my blog.

12 Comments

  1. August 8, 2010    

    Every review I read of this book makes me want it even more. I’m a ‘character reader’, and it sounds like Cutting for Stone has in-depth, unique characters.

  2. August 8, 2010    

    This sounds like a book I could get lost in. Your review, as always, is fantastic.

  3. August 8, 2010    

    I loved this one too! You’ve really made me want to read some John Irving now 🙂

  4. August 8, 2010    

    Just a little confused – were they able to be separated?

  5. August 9, 2010    

    I keep putting this off, solely because of the length, yet it sounds like a book I’d love… the John Irving comparison doesn’t hurt either 😉

  6. August 9, 2010    

    So glad you loved this one!! 🙂

  7. Amy Amy
    August 9, 2010    

    I’m so glad you loved it!! It was one of my favorite reads last year.

  8. August 10, 2010    

    100% agree with you! Great review.

  9. August 11, 2010    

    It took me a long time to get through this one when I read it last year, but I absolutely loved it. Glad to see you enjoyed it as well.

  10. August 15, 2010    

    Trisha: Yes, this is very character driven…

    Kathy: Thank you! Yes, it is a good book to get lost in!

    Jackie: You haven’t yet read anything by Irving??? Girl, you HAVE to read an Irving book!!! Don’t wait!

    El Fay: Oh, sorry – YES, they were actually separated at the time of the birth because the “connection” was very fragile….sorry I didn’t make that clear in my review!

    JoAnn: Don’t be intimidated by the length – it is a relatively fast read.

    Swapna: Me too!

    Amy: It is definitely up there amongst my favorite reads this year!

    Nicola: thanks!

    Hannah: Glad you also loved the book!

  11. September 25, 2010    

    Love the book and your review! In addition to all the great things you mentioned in your review, there were some parts of the book that were downright funny…the author is very witty. As a physician, it made me long for the days when practicing medicine was just about taking care of patients.

  12. October 1, 2010    

    Lisa: Thanks – and I am glad you also loved this book! I agree, the book was witty at times. I work in the medical field, and I found myself nodding along with him about what medicine SHOULD be like!

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