Cutting for Stone

I haven’t reviewed a book here in a really long time.  It’s been slow-going reading-wise for me this year. I’ve only completed six books and four of those have required quite a bit of thought and attention, and while I’ve enjoyed the books I’ve read I haven’t felt moved to review any of them until Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese.

First of all, let’s talk about the author for a minute. Before you (or I!) make excuses about not having time to write, here is his bio: Abraham Verghese is Professor and Senior Associate Chair for the Theory and Practice of Medicine at the Standford University School of Medicine.  He was the founding director of the Center for Medical Humanities and Ethics at the University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio, where he is now an adjunct professor…a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he has published essays and short stories that have appeared in The New Yorker, the New York Times, The Atlantic Monthly, Esquire, Granta, The Wall Street Journal and elsewhere.

See what I mean? No excuses, people! Anyway, I was somewhat hesitant a few weeks ago when  both my mom and my dad recommended I read this book, although I can’t pinpoint what caused the hesitancy.  I think it sounded “too serious” for summer. I’m glad I ignored my initial hesitation because I found this book enthralling and educational at the same time.

Part of the beauty of this book is its setting – much of the novel takes place in Ethiopia. I carried such a stereotype of Ethiopia in my mind, which this book shattered into a thousand pieces. Forced to confront my own ignorance I actually consulted a map – a map, people – to improve my understanding of Africa in general and  Ethiopia in particular. While I knew on a very basic level that Ethiopia is located in the mountains, and that the Italian occupation influenced its culture,  I had no idea the extent and breadth of the country’s environment and culture.  Since I am not overly adventurous by nature, only the most evocative senses of place in a book make me want visit…think Bill Bryson’s Australia, Pat Conroy’s South Carolina, Herman Wouk’s Poland…but I find myself incredibly drawn to the idea of visiting Ethiopia after reading Verghese’s book.

So the sense of place he creates is outstanding, but Verghese also tells the story of Marion and Shiva Stone, twin brothers orphaned by one parent and abandoned by another, who are raised in Addis Ababa while Ethiopia is on the brink of revolution. Their shared interest in medicine allows us to journey through their lives while learning about tuberculosis and fistulas and liver transplants and trauma surgery and how all of it is practiced in Ethiopia.

I’ll admit I’ve grown softer since becoming a mother – I used to devour mysteries and horror novels but lately I’ve been shying away from those kind of books. It’s surprising to realize that one of the reasons I loved this book is the heart behind most of the characters – so much love. Often the love is misplaced or misguided or, in one character’s case, crippling – but Verghese recognizes love in so many of its forms and its ability to motivate characters in the most astounding ways.

I fully recommend this book – I found it so powerful I’ve already added his memoir and the books he used to inform this novel to my to be read list.

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4 Responses to Cutting for Stone

  1. Anne Camille says:

    I loved this book. It was definitely the best book I read last year and nothing I’ve read yet this year has surpassed it. I read his memoir about AIDS in Tennessee (My Own Country, 1995) when it was first published. It was very moving and I still remember many of the people and their stories that he wrote about.

    As for the No Excuses on writing: Many, many years ago, an old college friend, who at the time was working PT at ETSU Med Center told me, when I whined about not having time, “There’s a doctor here who is taking a leave to go to Iowa Writers’ Workshop. You COULD do something like that.” I continued to make excuses — and now I’ve read two of Dr. Verghese’s books.

  2. This one has been on my library e-book wishlist for a while now. Thanks for the push I need to investigate further, Courtney!

  3. litlove says:

    This sounds amazing but I fear I am just too squeamish for it. I do tend to avoid all books with medical themes – I am a wimp! But it’s always such an uplifting experience to read a book that really inspires you, and hurray for that!

  4. Courtney says:

    Anne – I am definitely planning on reading his memoir as well! And how funny that your path crossed the way it did with Dr. Verghese.

    Andi – I can’t wait to read your review of this book – I really think you’ll enjoy it.

    Litlove – This is definitely a book “to be avoided” if you find yourself squeamish reading medical scenes…there are some very graphic scenes in the book, including the worst labor scene I have ever read!

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