Cutting for Stone: A Novel by Abraham Verghese (February 3, 2009), 560 pages
I knew this was going to be a good book on the first page of the prologue. And yet it took me awhile to get going on this book. I read part of the first page of the prologue. Then I read the rest of the prologue. Then I read the first couple paragraphs of chapter 1. Then I read the whole first chapter. These were all disparate reading experiences. I think I was put off by the heft of this tome.
Synopsis from the publisher, because this tome is hard to sum up:
A sweeping, emotionally riveting first novel — an enthralling family saga of Africa and America, doctors and patients, exile and home.
Marion and Shiva Stone are twin brothers born of a secret union between a beautiful Indian nun and a brash British surgeon at a mission hospital in Addis Ababa. Orphaned by their mother’s death in childbirth and their father’s disappearance, bound together by a preternatural connection and a shared fascination with medicine, the twins come of age as Ethiopia hovers on the brink of revolution. Yet it will be love, not politics — their passion for the same woman — that will tear them apart and force Marion, fresh out of medical school, to flee his homeland. He makes his way to America, finding refuge in his work as an intern at an underfunded, overcrowded New York City hospital. When the past catches up to him — nearly destroying him — Marion must entrust his life to the two men he thought he trusted least in the world: the surgeon father who abandoned him and the brother who betrayed him.
An unforgettable journey into one man’s remarkable life, and an epic story about the power, intimacy, and curious beauty of the work of healing others.
I was, at turns, sort of dreading, expecting that the best of the book had passed and the rest would be downhill; and irresistibly, hopefully, pulled along. The characters are remarkably resilient through hardship and pain. I’ve read books with a stronger sense of place, but this setting did indeed draw me in. This book has a little of everything.
I loved much about this book. I loved the medicine, the twins, Ethiopia, the family. (While reading, though, I deliberately rejected the word “epic” as a descriptor. While the tale is sweeping, and crosses the globe, it didn’t feel quite epic to me.) The conversation is what I liked best. By this I mean not the dialogue between characters, but rather the internal thoughts and struggles presented, whether the thoughts are placed inside Marion’s mind or whether they simply exist in the narrative. The questions of faith held my attention best (not surprisingly).
The writing is lovely. While it doesn’t quite rise to the standard of the best literature of all time, it’s quite close — certainly closer than any book I’ve read that’s been published recently.
Verghese is also the author of two nonfiction works and a medical doctor.
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