Thursday, July 14, 2011

Cutting For Stone - Abraham Verghese

This book is one of those that passed me right by when it released.  I read all of the wonderful, glowing reviews, but the scope of the book never solidified in my mind.  Something about orphaned twins, something about doctors, something about Africa.  I never quite "got" what all the fuss was about, and that, combined with it's length (560 pages in hardcover), plus the fact I couldn't get it on audio, just got it pushed further down my list.  Until the Heathrow Literary Society selected it as our June read.

So probably 80% of the reading world already knows this.  The joke was on me.  This amazing journey into Ethiopia's history, into twin-ness, into the human side of medicine, will most definitely be among my "best of" lists at the end of the year.

Synopsis:  The lives of Sister Marie Joseph Praise, a devout missionary nun, and Thomas Stone, a quirky but enigmatic young doctor, intersect at Missing Hospital in a poor town in Ethiopia.  Their destinies intertwined, they form a deep bond through the rigors of surgery as doctor and assistant.  To everyone's surprise, one day Sister Praise goes into labor, and dies giving birth to conjoined twins, Marion and Shiva.  Stone panics and disappears, leaving the boys effectively orphaned.  Their stories are told in first person by Marion.

Two Indian doctors at Missing decide to marry and raise the boys as their own.  Spanning decades, we witness Ethiopia's tumultuous history, the havoc it wreaks on the boys' lives, the medical challenges in a poor, third-world country, the notion of being predestined for a life in medicine, and the loving and sometimes violent community in which the boys are raised.

"A childhood in Missing imparted lessons about resilience, about fortitude, and about the fragility of life.  I knew better than most children how little separated the world of health from that of disease, living flesh from the icy touch of the dead, the solid ground from treacherous bog."

When adolescent emotions cause a division between the twins, it is only when Marion becomes a surgeon himself and moves to New York that the strength of the boys' bonds are truly tested. 

"Only the telling can heal the rift that separates my brother and me.  Yes, I have infinite faith in the craft of surgery, but no surgeon can heal the kind of wound that divides two brothers.  Where silk and steel fail, story must succeed."

My thoughts
: With grace and restrained passion, Verghese has created an epic story that very quickly swept me off my feet.  Because of the first-person narrative from Marion, it immediately felt personal and intimate.  Marion was a young man with heart and compassion, who admitted to his own inadequacies and fears, and it was impossible for me not to love him and everyone whom he loved in turn.  The characterization, through Marion's eyes, was brilliant. 

Knowing that Verghese was an accomplished physician himself, I went into the experience worrying that the prose might be too technical or too rigid.  Instead, it was beautiful and refined, at times even breath-taking.  (I know that sounds a little over-dramatic but it was.)  Verghese used his medical knowledge to lend an air of authenticity to the dialogue, but never did it alienate me or make me feel lost or stupid.  I really have never had an interest in cutting people open and repairing an intestine or transplanting a liver, but in this story I lived the miracle of saving lives, of attending the sick by listening and caring, and made a tiny part of me wish I could try.

Without being too mushy (no Disney endings here), this book had one of the biggest hearts you could find in modern fiction.  A heart full of compassion, forgiveness, commitment, human spirit and love for mankind.

Reactions from the Heathrow Literary Society: Unanimously my book club loved this book with all of their being.  One member called it a "masterpiece".  Another, an accomplished reader, called it a book that would be in his top ten of all time.  This type of reaction rarely happens (only once with "The Book Thief") and is a testament to the universality of this beautiful novel.


5 out of 5 stars   

         

23 comments:

Anna said...

Okay, you've sold me on this one! I didn't really give this book much thought until reading your review. It sounds amazing.

JoAnn said...

So glad you like this. It was one of my favorites last year. Verghese is one of next season's speakers for the lecture series my book club attends. I can't wait!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I too loved this so much, but I don't think it works so well as a book club book, because it's so hard to find any disagreement or discussion beyond "I LOVED this book! On the other hand, book clubs that do matching food can have great meals with this book! :--)

bermudaonion said...

I think I've avoided this book because of its length. Now I'm wondering if I could talk my book club into it.

reviewsbylola said...

Your book club received this book a little better than mine did. I loved it, but a lot of the members don't read as voraciously, so the length meant that quite a few members didn't finish it.

Trisha said...

I bought this book because of the positive reviews without ever really understanding the plot. :) I tend to skim summaries of books I haven't read and head straight for the reviewer's reaction to it. Hate those plot spoilers! :)

Martha@Hey, I want to read that said...

We read this in my book club last year and I agree with everything you said about it. What an amazing book this was. I have a no re-read policy this year but this would be one of the few books to make me break my vow.

Zibilee said...

I bought this book for myself for my birthday last year, and still have not read it. I think I am also intimidated by the size, though everything I have read about it says it's a must read. I love books that are grand in scope bit also have those deft little touches that make you fall in love with them. It's really only a matter of time before I crack open this one. I am so glad to see your enthusiastic review. It's enticed me to dig it out and set it in a place where it can't be overlooked.

Care said...

Wow! This is SOME endorsement! I own it, just haven't gotten to it yet.

Ti said...

You just reminded me that this is my book club's pick for August. I better start reading!

I know it's wonderful. So many have said so, including you but I've no desire to read it. I want made-up worlds this summer, not reality and this falls into the latter category.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

I've heard so many good reviews of this, but like you I hadn't paid too much attention. I guess I need to got on that!

natalie @book, line, and sinker said...

oh COME ON!!! this is the second time today i saw rave reviews for a book i came thisclose to buying last weekend while at my favorite indie bookshop in vermont. another bookie in the shop was telling me about it--raving, really-but in the end i went with another of her suggestions. i'm kicking myself but will be watching for this one at the library! :)

Gavin said...

Yeah! I'm glad you finally got to this one. I waited much to long to read it:) It is definitely on my favorites list for 2011.

caite said...

reaching back in my memory bank..I think you loved this a bit more than me, althought I agree it was a very good book.

Serena said...

sounds like an interesting book.

Amy said...

I really love this book so am always glad to see more glowing reviews. It is true though, such a remarkable masterpiece.

Swapna said...

Yes! I loved this one too. And I'm going to add a link to this one to the South Asian Review Database as well, if that's okay!~

Julie P. said...

LOVED this book! I could say "I told you so...."

Literate Housewife said...

I am so glad that you finally read this novel. I absolutely loved it. You have a very smart book club, too. :)

farmlanebooks said...

I knew you'd love this one and so I'm really pleased that your book club forced you to read this chunkster. It was on my "best of" list too. You should try and read a few more longer books - I tend to find them much more satisfying than the shorter ones.

Melissa said...

This one has passed me by too. I remember everyone loving it, but the length put me off. A 5 and a best of endorsement from you though adds it to my list.

Jenny said...

Wow!! I am definitely adding this to my list! I, too, never paid too much attention to this one. It sounded fairly interesting but not like something I had to absolutely read. I love your review and combined with everyone's thoughts from your book club sounds like I NEED to read it lol. Maybe on my nook...

Anonymous said...

Fantastic review! I just found your blog tonight and adore it. :)