Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
Published: 2010 by Vintage
Readers who selected this for the October “What Should I Read Next” poll: THANK YOU.
I initially picked up Cutting for Stone last year, but got about 120 pages in and decided that it just wasn’t the book for me at the time (read my post about that here). So it went back on to Mount TBR, patiently waiting for the right moment. I guess my mind must have been ready for it when I added it to the poll, because this time I didn’t want to stop reading it and a few times found myself staying up past my bedtime to read just a little bit more.
The novel begins with the surprising and traumatic birth of twins, Marian and Shiva Stone, at a hospital near Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where their mother – a nun – worked closely with their father – the surgeon at the facility. Since it happens early in the book I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by saying that upon their arrival they are abandoned by both of their parents in different ways, and are left to be raised by the remaining staff of the hospital compound, primarily doctors Hema and Ghosh.
Told from Marian’s perspective, the novel is the story of the twins’ upbringing in Ethiopia, amongst the morally questionable officials and the beautifully described landscape (Verghese’s descriptions of Ethiopia are so much in contrast to the only images I’ve seen of the country – depicting desolation and misery). As twins, Marian and Shiva are very much in sync with each other, but they also have their own personalities and interests; as with any other sibling relationship, this creates some conflicts, especially in the area of women; specifically, Genet, the daughter of one of their household’s servants who has grown up together with the boys.
After some political turmoil in the country, the adult Marian – now a medical school graduate - is forced to flee Ethiopia and finds his way to New York, where he takes on internship/residency at a hospital that closely resembles the hospital he called home in Ethiopia. It is here that his past catches up to his present, and where his future is also at stake.
I won’t say any more, because you just have to read the book. It’s not a short book — over 600 pages — but well worth the time and effort. And the ending — well, when you’ve finished it for yourself I’d love to talk about it; suffice to say that I had not expected what happened and was emotionally affected.
Highly highly recommended.