book review: Cutting for Stone

Cutting for Stone is a fictional work written by Dr. Abraham Verghese (physician).  The author’s medical degree is evident throughout the book because its main character is a surgeon named Marion Stone.  Marion and his Siamese twin, Shiva, are the prodigy of a nun (Sister Mary Joseph Praise) who died while giving birth and a British surgeon named Thomas Stone who work at a hospital in Ethiopia.  No one knew that the nun was pregnant until she ran into complications while giving birth.  Thomas Stone finally realizes how much he loves the nun as he watches her die and, overcome with grief, disappears.  Marion and his brother are raised by two colleagues of their parents.  Despite being separated just after birth, the twins are mirror images of each other and maintain a ESP-like way of communicating well into their childhood.  The novel is told in first person narrative from Marion’s point of view.  The novel describes their coming of age in Ethiopia.  Both boys, like their parents and foster parents, end up going into medical fields.

Abraham Verghese has very flowery prose and, to be honest, it took some getting used to.  The first  few chapters were slow moving.  I also found it annoying how he kept telling readers the conclusion and then spent 10 chapters (this is an exaggeration, of course) explaining what happened.  The writing was well done, it was just a little verbose.  The story itself was engrossing.  A nun who gets pregnant, Siamese twins, a background of political unrest, fascinating, well-developed characters all add up to make a pretty interesting plot line.  It’s interesting how, despite dealing with the medical field, there was a lot of religion/mysticism woven into this book.  It’s old and new swirling around, finally settling as the characters grow and come to terms with their decisions.  I would say that this is one of the many themes in the book.

Another theme in the book centers around our past and fate.  The past keeps coming back – we can’t seem to escape it, as described in one of the old stories told to Marion about a pair of shoes.  We make decisions, trying to get away from it, but it keeps coming back and we finally have to accept it in order to move on.  Unpleasant events in our lives tend to get buried, but until we are able to confront and accept them, we cannot move on.  Marion deals with this in the form of a girl.  His father deals with this when Marion meets him.

If I had to describe this book with one word, it would be “epic.”  Finishing the book made me feel the same way I felt after watching “Doctor Zhivago” for the first time (the one with Omar Sharif).  I felt exhausted – as if I had been on a long journey, but I was glad I went on the journey.

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