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Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

Hello all, it’s Becca, reviewing Abraham Verghese’s newest novel, Cutting for Stone.  I decided to try this book after eating Ethiopian food for the first time on a visit to Washington, D.C. and was not disappointed – with the food or the book!  Cutting for Stone was everything a great novel should be – sweeping, epic, and smart; at times heart wrenchingly sad but nearly always hopeful.  The tale begins in India, and follows a nun/nurse to Ethiopia, where she dies while giving birth to conjoined twins fathered by a brilliant surgeon.  Abandoned by their father on the day of their birth, the boys (Marion, the narrator, and Shiva, his twin) grow up on the grounds of Missing Hospital, raised by their parents’ colleagues.

Verghese paints such a lush, verdant picture of the setting that I felt transported while reading, and for the first time, found myself wishing I could visit Ethiopia.  The reader has a window into the work of Missing Hospital, home of capable doctors with limited funding, few modern instruments, and very needy patients.  The tone is compassionate, but matter-of-fact, and the medical jargon and explanation of procedures is accessible to even the most science-phobic among us.

The family life of the twins is also exposed, and the awkwardness of puberty, sibling rivalry, and discovery of each twin’s own personality and career aspirations is easy to relate to and interesting.  The relationship between the twins is one of the most powerful parts of the novel.  When the boys are young, their connection is palpable as they often act as one being, MarionShiva, where words aren’t necessary to understand and execute mutual goals.  As they grow older, this bond begins to unravel.  The sibling dynamic is captured artfully; after a perceived betrayal Marion is unable to blame his brother, but unable to forgive him either.

The comparison between the United States and Marion’s home of Ethiopia is possibly the best written portion of the novel.  When Marion becomes a refugee in New York, the reader gets to see America from an outsider’s eyes.  As Marion completes his medical residency in a low-income Queens hospital, the difference between medicine in Ethiopia and America is astounding.  In Ethiopia, any cured illness is viewed as a miracle, unlike in America where Marion feels immortality is expected, and health is taken for granted by many.

I recommend this novel wholeheartedly because it’s engaging and captivating, but also because it compassionately encourages the growth of a reader’s worldview.  I loved reading about the medical profession and the different personalities of the doctors with their passion for curing illness. The author explores the big ideas of culture and politics, and the smaller, but no less important, family sphere and coming of age of the main character. ★★★★

This work of art can be found here or at your favorite local bookstore or library!