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Posts Tagged ‘Abraham Verghese

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese, Random House Vintage Books, 2009, 669 pp.

13-cutting-for-stoneThis novel is epic–in the traditional sense of the word rather than the modern slang. It is the story of an entire lifetime–two lives, really–with a cast of characters that develop and evolve across four continents and the entire 20th century. Its nearly 700 pages flies by, with every detail coming together into a complete story. The book has everything I love–compelling characters, interesting plot, difficulties (both emotional and embodied) to overcome, and a fascinating setting. I loved it.

The narrator and central character is Dr. Marion Stone, along with his twin brother Shiva. The story begins with their sudden, surprising and dangerous birth to a nun, Sister Mary Joseph Praise, at the Missing Hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The narrator then traces back the story of their parents, from their birth onward to their meeting and partnership. Their mother was from India, becoming a nun and nurse whose order sent her on an ill-fated mission to Africa. Their father was an English doctor born and raised in India, who was serving at Missing Hospital to escape his own sorrowful story. At their birth, their mother dies and their father disappears. The story unfolds their lives uncovering the mystery of their parents’ stories.

Meanwhile, they are surrounded by an adoring family at Missing Hospital. Two other doctors, Hema and Ghosh, serve as their mother and father, joined by two nannies/maids, Rosina and Almaz; the hospital’s odd priest/gatekeeper Gebrew; Missing’s director Matron; and even a sister in Rosina’s daughter Genet, born just a few months after the twins. Together they raise Shiva and Marion, alongside Genet, in the midst of an Ethiopia dealing with coups, poverty and more. Both boys are drawn to medicine, but follow different paths. In their late teens, there is a fracture in the relationship between the twins, and the novel reckons with that brokenness and painful reconciliation.

The author himself is a surgeon, and this book could almost be classified as “medical fiction,” if there is such a genre. Verghese writes of the human body, of surgery and illness with great detail and unique insight, but that expertise is partnered with great wisdom about human living. Just a sample few lines from the opening chapter:

We come unbidden into this life, and if we are lucky we find a purpose beyond starvation, misery, and early death which, lest we forget, is the common lot. I grew up and I found my purpose and it was to become a physician. My intent wasn’t to save the world as much as to heal myself. Few doctors will admit this, certainly not young ones, but subconsciously, in entering the profession, we must believe that ministering to others will heal our woundedness. And it can. But it can also deepen the wound. (7)

Cutting for Stone is the kind of story I hesitate to share in detail, because each small detail of plot turns back on itself in the story’s resolution and I do not want to give it away. The book requires a commitment, but it is beautiful and wonderful and well worth it. I foresee this being one of my favorite books of the year, with characters and story that are easily forgotten.

About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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