Every so often, a book comes along that simply overpowers the reader, wholly. It overwhelms in every way and leaves the reader spellbound, stunned for a while after. Cutting for Stone is one such book.
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The Book Review
Cutting for Stone
Title: Cutting for Stone
Author: Abraham Verghese
Source: My personal library
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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.
What can I say about this book that will do it justice? I am not sure if my words will be able to capture the beauty, the wonder ‘Cutting for Stone‘ is. But this is my attempt at it.
Verghese combines his knowledge of the medical world, Ethiopia (it’s beauty, it’s people, it’s history), and his richly portrayed characters to tell one of the best stories I have read. ‘Cutting for Stone’ tells the story of twin brothers born of Sister Mary Joseph Praise (an Indian nun) and Dr.Thomas Stone(a British surgeon) in Ethiopia. Their birth leaves them parent-less and the two other surgeons at Missing Hospital (Mission mispronounced by localites), Hema and Ghosh , take on the role of parents.
The story is narrated by Marion, the elder twin, and effortlessly moves from telling the story of the birth parents to the twins themselves. As they grow up in a wonderful land filled with turmoil, they along with people around them continue to live their life.
The lives of Shiva(the other twin), Marion, Hema, Ghosh, Matron, Genet(Marion’s first love), and other characters (all strong and interesting in their own right) are ordinary (in the setting of the story), believable, and at the same time interesting and rich with experiences. The twins grow up with a profound love and natural talent for medicine – nature and nurture both seeming to play a role here.
As Marion experiences love, and then betrayal, he is forced to make a decision to move away from life at Missing and move to America. Marion’s reactions to America, again, ring true for any immigrant. As the story progresses and Marion seems to meet his past again, it seems like the circle of life is completed.
And Then Some More Thoughts
Each and every character in the book stands on his or her own, portrayed like a person I would meet on the street with fears and flaws and talents. Thomas Stone is a disturbed man and a medical genius; Ghosh is a ocean of calm and love; Hema, Matron and Sister Mary Joseph Praise are all strong characters each with secrets of their own; Marion and Shiva – two units of one being, yet two strong individuals; Genet – whose life is unfortunately turned around because of events; and so many more. I also liked Tsige – she is able to make the best of her situation and better her life as well as others in the process.
I came enriched with a wonderful story without realizing I also learned a whole lot more, like:
- some historic facts about India, Ethiopia and America
- medical facts and terms
- and a mini-dictionary on the side as I made a list of all the new words (excluding the medical terms) I saw 🙂
Messes the Rating System
I have not been rating any of my books with stars or any other system, but if I did, I would have had trouble with this, I would have had to create one way above the others. This review goes towards South Asian Book challenge and helps me meet my goal of 10 books for the same!!
Quotes and Passages
Some interesting passages from the book:
- A mad alchemist, she throws a pinch of this, a fistful of that, then wets her fingers and flings that moisture into the mortar. She pounds with the pestle, the wet, crunchy thunk, thunk soon changes to the sound of stone on stone. Mustard seeds explode in the hot oil. She holds a lid over the pan to fend off the missiles. Rat-a-tat! like hail on a tin roof. She adds the cumin seeds, which sizzle, darken, and crackle. A dry, fragrant smoke chases out the mustard scent.
- Rosina took silence as a personal offense, and spoke into empty rooms and chattered into cupboards. Genet, almost six years of age, was showing signs of taking after her mother, telling herself stories about herself in a singsong voice, creating her own mythology.
- The Arab souks all over Addis were like this, as if they’d come from the same womb. Dangling down from the ceiling, on clothespins attached to a string, were single-use packets of Tide, Bayer aspirin, Chiclets, and paracetamol. They twirled like party decorations. A meat hook hanging from the rafters held squares of newspaper, ready to use as wrapping. A roll of twine hung on another hook. Loose cigarettes sat in a jar on top of the counter, unopened cigarette packs stacked next to them. The shelves were stuffed with matchboxes, bottled sodas, Bic pens, pencil sharpeners, Vicks, Nivea Creme, notebooks, erasers, ink, candles, batteries, Coca-Cola, Fanta, Pepsi, sugar, tea, rice, bread, cooking oil, and much more.
- “Pray, tell us what’s your favorite number,” Bailey said, no sarcasm in his voice anymore, “since sixty-six is your second favorite?” Shiva jumped up to the board, uninvited, and wrote: 10,213,223. B.….Shiva went on. “This number,” Shiva said, tapping on the board with the chalk, getting as excited as Shiva allowed himself to get, “is the only number that describes itself when you read it. ‘One zero, two ones, three twos, and two threes’!” Then my brother laughed in delight, a sound so rare that our class was stunned.
- “Wasn’t that the definition of home? Not where you are from, but where you are wanted”
For more quotes, you can check:
Do I need to?!!
Get it Here
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Wondrous Words Wednesday:
Kathy over at Bermudaonion’s Weblog hosts Wondrous Words Wednesday.
If you come across a word (or two) while reading that is new to you
and would like to share your new knowledge, then hop over to
Kathy’s place and link up!
As I have reviewed Cutting for Stone (finally), I picked two more words from my mini-dictionary derived from this book for WWW:
is·che·mi·a (BRIT. is·chae·mi·a) n. [MEDICINE] an inadequate blood supply to an organ or part of the body, esp. the heart muscles. is·che·mic adj. late 19th cent. (denoting the stanching of bleeding): modern Latin, from Greek iskhaimos ‘stopping blood’, from iskhein ‘keep back’ + haima ‘blood’.
ple·na·ry adj. 1 unqualified; absolute: crusaders were offered a plenary indulgence by the pope. 2 (of a meeting) to be attended by all participants at a conference or assembly, who otherwise meet in smaller groups: a plenary session of the European Parliament. ¦ n. a meeting or session of this type. late Middle English: from late Latin plenarius ‘complete’, from plenus ‘full’.
And Now, the End of This Post
Dear reader, have you read this book? If yes, your thoughts on this? What are the books that have overpowered you? Do let me know. I would love to add them to my reading list
14 thoughts on “Book Review: Cutting for Stone”
Two great words there. I did know both of them, I use ischaemia at work, and have attended many plenary sessions, but never thought about the meaning before!
@Louiseischemia was totally new to me. Plenary, I remember reading before but did not think about it for long 🙂
This book is full of great words! I picked it back up and marked another new word just last night!
Thanks for visiting my blog, I am now following yours 🙂
I've wanted to read this book for a while, but now I want to read it even more!
I *loved* this book and I think it's tied with The Road for the best book I've read this decade. Amazing! And Dr. Verghese is a lovely, lovely person. I've met him twice now since Cutting for Stone was published. (I'm kind of smitten with him, truth be told)
Thanks for the follow–I'm now doing the same on your blog!
@Sam (Tiny Library)Thank you! This book is the best I have read in a while.
@bermudaonionYes, I am sure reading it again will mean discovering more words I missed the first time!
@As the Crowe Flies and ReadsThanks! I have to read 'The Road' now. And lucky you, to have met him in person. As I was reading the book, that was the growing thought in me – to meet him. And he is in Stanford (I live in the area) so maybe will get a chance to meet him.
I am a lover of words and your posts
I’ve never read this but seems a book that many love, lovely review.
Great review, I’ve never heard of the book before.
That was such a great review!!!
I’ve never read this one before. Great review 🙂
Haven’t heard of this one before. Great job.