Cutting for Stone is one of those novels whose size and reputation could easily intimidate its prospective readers. It comes in at almost 550 pages, after all, and most of the story takes place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, of all places. Its main characters are Ethiopian, Eritrean, Indian, British, or some mix of those nationalities and, even when the action moves to New York City, it is to a part of the city few Americans know anything about. The novel is part history lesson, part love story; it is both a modern novel and a reminder of the kind of thing Charles Dickens wrote on his best days; it is a science lesson and a travelogue. Bottom line: This is a very special novel, a reading experience everyone should at least consider having. Pick up this book; flip through it; read a few pages to see if it is something for you. If not, put it aside and try it again in a few months. Maybe you will get lucky the second time around.
When Sister Mary Joseph Praise gives birth to twin boys, no one is more surprised than the people trying to save her life – even Dr. Thomas Stone, the man suspected of being the father of the babies cannot believe what he is seeing. Stone feels such shock and dismay at his failure to save the nun that he walks out of the lives of his sons even as they are struggling to draw their first breaths.
Right up to the moment of her tragic death, Sister Mary Joseph Praise and Dr. Stone have been integral parts of the Missing Hospital community (called Missing only because native speakers have difficulty pronouncing the word Mission). Now, Hema, the mission’s obstetrician, decides that she needs to devote herself to raising the twins, and Ghosh, the only other doctor, has to transform himself into a confident surgeon. Marion and Shiva Stone will grow into young men surrounded by loving and supportive people but, to say the least, they live in interesting times.
The boys will prove to be good students and, with the encouragement of Hema and Ghosh, both develop the interest in medicine that will define their lives. What better place can there be than Missing Hospital for would-be medical doctors to gain countless hours of hands-on experience other medical students can only dream about.? Unfortunately, politics, in the form of military coups and Eritrean separatist rebels, will have tragic consequences for some of those closest to Marion and Shiva, even to the point that Marion is forced to leave Missing Hospital for work in a New York ghetto hospital. But that is far from the end of Marion and Shiva Stone’s story.
Readers will be totally immersed in the world and characters Abraham Verghese has created in Cutting for Stone, and will find that Marion and Shiva Stone soon become believable characters despite their rather mythical entry into the world. Their relationship suffers over the years but, despite everything that happens between them, the pair shares the kind of bond only experienced by identical twins. They are so close, in fact, that Marion often feels they should be called MarionShiva rather than by their individual names. The reader will also come to love most of the supporting cast, despite the fatal flaws exhibited by a few of them, with which Verghese surrounds the Stone brothers.
I do have one warning about Cutting for Stone (and I say this with a smile): Keep in mind that Abraham Verghese is a doctor and that he uses surgical detail and medical condition descriptions to add authenticity and passion to his prose. This is not a book to be read during lunch or dinner by anyone with a “weak stomach.” Those who have read the book will know what I mean; those who have not should consider themselves warned.
Rated at: 5.0