I kept hearing outstanding reviews of Cutting for Stone, a novel by Abraham Verghese, so I picked it up with a birthday gift card at Borders this winter…but I couldn’t find time to read it (it’s 657 pages!), so when I was choosing a book for spring break last month, I finally dove in. It took me over two weeks to get through it, but I thoroughly enjoyed every minute. This complex story features full, rich characters and beautiful prose in an exotic setting.
Twins Marion and Shiva are born in 1954 conjoined at the head (but immediately separated) in Ethiopia to an Indian nun whose medical colleagues are shocked to find out she’d been pregnant. She dies in childbirth, her assumed partner runs off, and the twin boys are brought up by loving adoptive parents near the tiny hospital in Addis Ababa where they work as doctors. The boys grow up with an innate fascination with medicine, amid a country embroiled in revolution, and both seek to be medical professionals themselves, each in his own way.
Looking back at that last paragraph, I see that describing the plot and subject of the novel like that just doesn’t do it justice. This novel is filled with details, of the characters and their backgrounds, the settings, and the boys’ lives, making you feel as if you are there. Before I read this book, all I knew of Ethiopia was what I’d heard of the famines in the1970’s and 1980’s, so the novel’s description of a lush and mountainous country influenced by its past Italian rule was fascinating to me. Likewise, the author’s insights into human nature were engaging and thoughtful.
This is not a book to be rushed through. It is a novel to be savored slowly so that you can get to know the characters almost as friends and absorb all the rich details of their lives in this foreign place. I think it will be especially fascinating to anyone in the medical field (the author is himself a doctor), though a layperson like me can appreciate it also. This would be a great book for a book group. I finished it and thought, “Who can I discuss this with now?”
657 pages, Vintage Books (division of Random House)