Cutting for Stone

Book Club, Book Reviews / Sunday, January 13th, 2013

IMG_1614How in the world did I get through 2009 and didn’t read or hear about this book?  It was simply AMAZING!
What’s it about?  Well, it’s about culture, love, separation, devotion, betrayal, family, and so many other things.  It’s hard to talk about this book without giving away the plot and I don’t like writing reviews full of spoilers, but here’s the overall story.

It’s the 1950s in an Ethiopian mission hospital where twin boys, Marion and Shiva Stone, are born out of a relationship between a young nun and an English surgeon.  There, the two boys grow up with two very different personalities, while their country is going through much governmental upheaval.  Be ready for meetings with fascinating characters, intriguing situations, beautifully described landscapes, smells of spiced Ethiopian dishes, medical procedures, much sadness, and even a bit of mystery.  All of this and more is recounted through India, Yemen, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and the United States.  In essence, it is a story of separation.  Cutting for Stone is epic, exuberant, a must read,  and even more so, if you are interested in this part of the world.

I could rave on and on about how great this book is but of course nothing is perfect.  Cutting for Stone has a few problems in my opinion.  Firstly, it is very heavy in detailed explanations of medical procedures.  If you’re not the squeamish type you won’t have a problem.  In my case, the birth of the twins had my imagination reeling.  I found that part pretty horrific, unfortunately I have a good imagination when the description is well done.  I pictured the scene a little too well.  However, these medical descriptions are very informative for laypeople.  Lastly, the novel falls down a bit in the first part.  The book consists of four parts.  Interestingly enough, parts 2,3, and 4 are not at all written in the same way as part 1.  I say thank goodness once I started to read part 2 the style had changed, otherwise, Verghese would have lost me forever.  Part 1 is written with a slight pretentiousness. It didn’t seem to entice me directly into the story.  The detail was colossal and overbearing; so distracting at times, I found it hard to decide what to focus on.  It just made me proceed reading cautiously and slower, but it was well worth it because by Chapter 11, which is the beginning of Part 2, I felt a welcome shift to the story.  The writing style was more literary and sensitive to my liking.  Sometimes as readers we have to work a little to enjoy the full extent of the reading experience of some books.  This is a good reason not to give up too quickly.  (Part 2 started on page 113.)

Abraham Verghese was born in Ethiopia in 1955.  His Indian parents were working as teachers in Ethiopia then.  Verghese began his medical training near Addis Ababa.  He later joined his parents in the United States to continue his studies after Emperor Haile Selassie was ousted from power in Ethiopia.  Being a foreign medical graduate at the end of his studies, he only found internships in less popular hospitals and communities.  He wrote about these experiences in his first articles in the New Yorker.  They were called The Cowpath to America.  Verghese continued to practice medicine and to write and published two memoirs called The Tennis Partner and My Own Country, where Verghese writes about being a doctor in a small town in eastern Tennessee.  there he and the town are faced with their first AIDS patient.  The Tennis Partner is about a very close relationship between a doctor and a recovering drug addict intern.  The ritual of playing tennis brings them closer together.  Empathy for the patient and bedside medicine are issues Verghese felt have been stifled among medical training.  He was asked to join Stanford University in 2007 as a tenured professor because of his interest in bedside medicine and his work as a reputable clinician.  Cutting for Stone is fiction, but the theme of patient empathy is a strong element that Verghese emphasizes in many instances in the story, not to mention, there are some similarities with his life.  Check out the video below because you’ll get an excellent insight into what Verghese was trying to depict in Cutting for Stone, very thought-provoking.  Enjoy!

Title: Cutting for Stone

Genre:  Adult fiction/Historical fiction

Published:  2009

Edition:  Vintage Books

Pages:  534

My Rating: * * * * *

Favorite quote:  “When a man is a mystery to himself you can hardly call him mysterious.” (Cutting for Stone, p. 31)


12 Replies to “Cutting for Stone”

  1. Brilliant! I think I hardly really even paid too much attention to the slowish start because I started this off the back of a book that was half the size and took me 2 weeks to read, so I skated through those first 100 pages!

    It’s a great story and he’s an inspirational writer. Made me laugh about the squeamish bits, but I prefer this to violence any day!

    1. I read it in 4 days! My book club was Saturday. It’s an excellent book. My 2013 is really starting with a major bang. Hope it doesn’t fizzle out. Have a lot of books that I’m excited to read like The Casual Vacancy, Wolf Hall,some classics. It seems as if I have my eye on a lot of books that are over 400 pages. so, it’s going to be challenging. Happy reading and writing…..

  2. Better late that never is a great book motto. I too loved this book when I read it. I was fascinated by all the medical terminology, but even more so with the history of Ethipia, about which I knew nothings. Then, throwing a nun into the mix, I was hooked. So glad you enjoyed it Didi.

  3. I only skimmed your review, but I think I will be adding this to my list! I am doing the reading challenge at GoodReads 🙂

    Thanks for all the love you’ve been leaving over at Callaloo Soup btw

  4. This book was recommended to me and I just couldn’t do it. Like you mentioned, I previewed the first part and it was quite “pretentious.” I couldn’t do the writing or swallow the details. Now, your review makes me wanna push on through.

    1. Please do. It’s an amazing read! Something about the novel shifts and you can’t put it down. I don’t know what got into him with part 1 but he straightens up from Part 2 on. It would be a shame not to finish it.

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