Title: Cutting for Stone (Vintage)
Author: Abraham Verghese
Release Date: February 3, 2009
Genre: Multicultural Fiction, Literary Fiction
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4.75 out of 5
A nun by the name of Sister Mary Joseph Praise is traveling from her home in India to Ethiopia when she meets a doctor named Thomas Stone. She ends up working with him in a hospital in Ethiopia. One day, the ever-reliable nun doesn’t turn up for her shifts as Dr. Stone’s assistant. When they find her, they discover she is pregnant (a fact she has managed to hide from her colleagues at the hospital thus far) and about to give birth to twins. Told from the point of view of Marion, one of the twin boys, this is an epic story of family, love, and healing.
I’ve heard a lot about how amazing Cutting for Stone is, and how it’s one of those books that I should pick up immediately. It took me awhile, but now that I’ve finished it, I can completely understand the sentiment. In fact, I’ve been converted. So before I begin this review, which will completely fail to do this amazing book justice, I will say this – its reputation is well-deserved.
My summary above doesn’t even begin to cover the breadth of this astonishing novel. So many subjects are covered here – the connection between twins, the power and responsibility of being a doctor, the elements that create a terrorist – that I can’t even begin to describe everything this book covers. At its core, it’s about our common humanity, how we are all people just trying to get through our lives. It’s not about the high drama of the coups and deaths, but instead, it focuses on the mundane events of daily life, and how there is so much beauty in just living.
Cutting for Stone’s setting is primarily in Ethiopia, which adds to the complexity of the story. It’s not a book about Africa, but a novel whose setting happens to be Africa – a fine but crucial distinction. Verghese is careful not to exploit African stereotypes or Ethiopian events in order to inject life into his novel. His characters continue on their journeys, regardless of what is going on around them. That’s not to say he doesn’t incorporate African elements; he definitely does, and it contributes so much to the novel as a whole. But that’s not what it’s about.
The character development in Cutting for Stone was really impressive, especially considering that Verghese is a doctor, not a writer. He breathes life into each and every person in this book. Everyone has a story, even the most minor characters. At the same time, he never overwhelms the reader with too many characters. It is incredibly well done.
I’m sure you’re reading this review and thinking “Why a 4.75 and not a 5, with all this gushing?” Well, there was one thing I had trouble with in Cutting for Stone. I wouldn’t even say I disliked this detail, as removing it would take a lot from the story. It’s a book about doctors, after all. From Dr. Thomas Stone, to Hema, Ghosh, Marion and Shiva, these characters’ chosen profession is to help people in need and to heal them if possible. As a result, there’s a lot of blood, a lot of graphic descriptions of surgeries and such. Because I’m squeamish and that type of thing makes me a little nauseous, I didn’t love that aspect of the book. At the same time, I wouldn’t change a thing about Cutting for Stone – the medical detail is necessary for the story.
Cutting for Stone is an incredibly written journey that I can’t say enough good things about. It’s definitely a long book and takes quite the time investment, but the rewards are so great that it’s worth every second you spend with it. I’m so glad I finally gave this novel a chance, and will be on the lookout for Verghese’s next book.