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Cutting for Stone
Marion and Shiva Stone are twin brothers born of a secret union between a beautiful Indian nun and a brash British surgeon. Orphaned by their mother’s death and their father’s disappearance, bound together by a preternatural connection and a shared fascination with medicine, the twins come of age as Ethiopia hovers on the brink of revolution.
Moving from Addis Ababa to New York City and back again, Cutting for Stone is an unforgettable story of love and betrayal, medicine and ordinary miracles--and two brothers whose fates are forever intertwined.
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||January 26, 2010|
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2616 of 2684 found the following review helpful:
"We are all fixing what is broken. It is the task of a lifetime."Feb 12, 2009
By S. McGee
This brilliant novel revolves around what is broken -- limbs, family ties, trust -- and the process of rebuilding them. It starts with the birth of twin boys to a nursing nun, Sister Mary Praise Joseph, in a small hospital on the outskirts of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; an event which no one had expected: "The everyday miracle of conception had taken place in the one place it should not have: in Sister Mary Praise Joseph's womb." The delivery rapidly becomes a debacle when it's clear that Mary Praise Joseph can't deliver her baby normally; the last minute arrival home at "Missing" (the Mission Hospital) by Indian obstetrician Hema saves the children, but their mother dies and their presumed father father, surgeon Thomas Stone, disappears into the night.
That brief summary does no justice to Verghese's powerful and remarkable prose style or the structure of the first part of the book which, although it revolves around the tragedy that claims the life of the twins' mother, also introduces the other main characters who will take the place of their biological parents. Darting back and forth between the events in the surgical theater (as Thomas Stone, horrified at what he sees, first tries to save Mary Joseph Praise's life by collapsing the skull of the infant he believes cannot be born alive), the mundane daily activities of his fellow doctor, Ghosh (trying to escape what he believes is a hopeless love for Hema) and Hema's struggle to get home to Missing from her annual holiday in India, the reader will find it impossible to put the book down and wants only to find a way of reading faster and faster to discover what happens next. By the time the twins are born, attached by a blood vessel at the head and separated at the last moment by Stone and Hema to save their lives, the reader will find himself or herself resenting every moment not spent following this story until the tale is told. And even when you are finished, the novel and its more-than-compelling characters will linger on in your mind...
Separated at birth, the twins grow up in the Ethiopia of the Emperor Haile Selaisse's reign, and Verghese introduces the reader to an ancient world that will be new to most readers, with all its flavors, colors, scents and sounds. His remarkable artistry ensures that this is never jarring but always intriguing and that the characters -- Indian expatriate doctors raising their two foster children, born to an Indian nun and an American surgeon, with the help of an Eritrean caretaker and her own daughter -- feel as familiar to us as if they were members of our own family. In the manner of a classic epic, Verghese picks his themes -- separation, the intersection of sex and death, wounds and what surgery can and can't accomplish -- and sticks to them throughout. And yet, those themes -- sweeping ones for any novelist to tackle -- never overshadow the fact that this is, at its core, the story of two brothers, Shiva and Marion -- or ShivaMarion, as Marion, the narrator, describes their single-minded unity in their youngest years.
Ultimately, the political events in Ethiopia and family betrayals send Marion fleeing to the United States. His odyssey seems to rupture all these ties and yet by the time the novel ends, we realize that every step has, in fact, been bringing Marion, Shiva and their extended family closer together as well as toward a resolution of the various plot twists. Training as a surgeon in a Bronx hospital where the only interns are from overseas ("the bloodlines from the Mayflower hadn't trickled down to this zip code", Marion reflects wryly), the finally encounters his birth father in person -- with dramatic consequences -- and has a chance to make peace with Thomas Stone, Shiva -- and himself.
Anyone familiar with Veghese's non-fiction writing (two very compelling memoirs, My Own Country: A Doctor's Story and The Tennis Partner) knows that he is an impeccable prose stylist. But relatively few non-fiction writers can also write wonderful fiction, much less produce this kind of complex drama. Rarer still is that this is a debut novel. Even the remarkable coincidences of the final third of the book never feel anything less than pitch-perfect: a real tribute to both Verghese's carefully-constructed plot and his eloquent, pitch-perfect writing.
It is rare for me to stumble over a novel of such a high caliber, one that creates the kind of characters I have never met before, characters who now are as vividly alive in my mind as any of the real individuals who populate my world. May this be only the first of many novels that Verghese produces for us, his lucky readers.
600 of 616 found the following review helpful:
Are You Your Brother's Keeper?Feb 10, 2009
Throughout this magnificent novel, this question is answered affirmatively over and over again. Whether your brother is your identical twin, an orphaned child, an unfortunate neighbor, or a stranger, each person deserves to be cared for.
Beginning in India, the story progresses to Africa where it remains until the protagonist immigrates to America. Marion, the narrator of this fictional autobiography, is one of a set of identical twins. His birth and life at the mission, Missing, provide the basis for the conflicts and triumphs contained in the novel. The historical backdrop, Ethiopia's internal conflicts and coups, impart additional depth to the book's realistic atmosphere. The title "Cutting for Stone" is taken from the Hippocratic oath, but may also reflect a double meaning. The biological father of the Marion and his twin, Shiva, is Thomas Stone, a famous surgeon. In what may be a subconscious effort to emulate and impress their absent parent, both become skilled surgeons. They are "Cutting for Stone".
This is one of the most outstanding books I have been privileged to read. Verghese is a skilled writer and draws the reader into the book immediately. The characters are strong, interesting, and very human; the conflicts are realistic and keep the pace of the novel moving forward. Even minor characters are sufficiently well developed so that the reader would like to know more about their lives. There is gentle humor, emotional turmoil, and great personal triumph throughout the book.
Allow yourself the luxury of time to read "Cutting for Stone" without interruption. If you do not, you will find yourself thinking about the characters and wondering what is going to happen to each one. In my opinion, that is the mark of a great book - the author has captured your attention and quietly demands you give it to nothing else. When a book as fine as "Cutting for Stone" is involved, you are more than happy to comply. You can, if necessary, read this book in multiple sessions without losing interest or forgetting what has previously occurred.
Had I been allowed to rate this book more than five stars, I would have done so. It is truly a masterpiece.
461 of 487 found the following review helpful:
Fiction at it's BestFeb 10, 2009
Many readers will tell you that Cutting for Stone is the epic story of two conjoined twins fathered by a brilliant British Surgeon and an Indian Nun. And it technically is. Narrated by Marion the first born twin we are told of every influence on his and his brother's existence. More than the story being told however, the novel is an accurate portrayal of life in all it's cruelty and wonder.
The twin's mother dies in childbirth and their father abandons them minutes later. They are raised in a missionary medical hospital in Ethiopia. As they grow up they are forced to face their past and futures re-defining the meanings of destiny, love and family.
While reading you will notice the fine points are painstakingly researched as the story is and packed full of medical jargon and situations along with vivid descriptions of Ethiopian culture and history. My only reservation in recommending the book is the novels "hard moments" as almost every imaginable tragedy touches these brothers, and medical operations and oddities are very detailed. Squeamish readers may want to skim some of these passages.
All in all, this novel is elegantly told, superbly structured and the most original piece of fiction I've read in years. It's deserving of every positive adjective I can throw at it; marvelous, and thrilling. You will want to own and lose yourself in this book again and again. Buy it now, and thank me later.
127 of 131 found the following review helpful:
Best book of 2009?Feb 18, 2009
The plot of this book can be summed up neatly: Cutting for Stone follows the lives of two boys from birth to adulthood. The boys, Marion and Shiva are identical twins orphaned at birth who are raised by a surrogate family and grow up on the grounds of Missing Hospital in Ethiopia. Although they individuate in adolescence, their lives continue to be intertwined and develop along parallel paths. Eventually both men practice medicine, one in America and the other in Ethiopia. However, this book is so much more than plot.
Cutting for Stone is a beautifully written coming-of-age novel weaving family, hospital and house staff, patients, community, disease, and country into a complex tapestry. It incorporates love, lust, trust, betrayal, commitment, emigration, faith, poverty, life, death, hope, dreams, fears, and just about every other big theme you can imagine without ever becoming predictable, manipulative, or cliched. It's an epic story that feels intimate and cozy and enveloping. The characters are like family and I'd feel at home if I visited Missing Hospital, Matron, and the staff.
I usually read quickly, finishing a book in a day or two. Cutting for Stone took more than a week. The story was compelling, but I read slowly to savor the words and picture Addis Ababa through Marion's eyes. I didn't want the journey to end.
I will be recommending this book to all my reading friends for a long time to come and can't wait for Dr. Verghese to pass through my city on his book tour. Go grab a copy and start reading - you won't be disappointed.
103 of 107 found the following review helpful:
"Your 'Gloria' Lives Within You."Feb 11, 2009
By H. F. Corbin
CUTTING FOR STONE (a reference to the Hippocratic Oath, "I will not cut for stone"), Dr. Abraham Verghese's first novel, is a massive linear story of over 500 pages reminiscent of the great 19th century British novels-- Charles Dickens comes to mind, and one of the characters reads George Eliot's MIDDLEMARCH-- and first cousins with the novels of John Irving and Khaled Hosseini, another physician who, as the whole literary world knows, gave us THE KITE RUNNER and A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS. (That is not to say that this fine work of fiction is derivative in any way.) Verghese writes with the passion of Thomas Wolfe; but contrary to what that North Carolina writer said, sometimes you can go home again. The narrator of CUTTING FOR STONE is Marion, an identical twin of Shiva. They are born in Ethiopia in 1954 of an Indian mother and British father. Marion and Shiva's lives resonated with me-- at least a little-- since I am also a twin, through fraternal. Just like Marion and Shiva, my brother and I will go to our graves remembered by many (if at all) as simply "the twins." The action covers continents: Africa, Asia, Europe-- at least a brief stopover by Marion and his stepmother Hema in Rome near the end of the novel-- and North America. In addition to these three characters, there are Hema's husband Ghosh, Genet, Thomas Stone, Sister Mary Joseph Praise and a host of others you will be haunted by when you finish this novel.
Dr. Verghese's first book, a work of nonfiction, MY OWN COUNTRY, may well be the best thing ever written about AIDS. It is the doctor's account of the time he spent treating AIDS patients in the mid-eighties at the VA hospital in Johnson City, Tennessee, some sixty miles from where I grew up so I recognized many of the people he wrote about. His second book THE TENNIS PARTNER is a sad but beautifully written treatise on friendship. I wondered then if the author could match these two earlier successes with a work of fiction. The answer is a resounding "yes." This novel has everything going for it. In addition to the story that covers continents and characters whose fates will break your heart, The tone of the novel and Verghese's themes certainly satisfy Matthew Arnold's requirements for high seriousness: betrayal, missed opportunities, the definition of family-- doesn't our family consist of those people who love us?-- love and forgiveness.
Dr. Verghese in CUTTING FOR STONE returns to concerns he has written about previously, particularly in MY OWN COUNTRY, where he went to great lengths to express his belief that patients are people, regardless of their illness or station in life and should be treated as such-- or as Marion says here, not just a "'diabetic foot in bed two' or 'myocardial infarction in bed three.'" He also has written of the plight of Indian doctors in the U. S. who are too often seen as second class citizens who are caring for other second class citizens. Here Marion's friend Gandhi reminds him that at hospitals that he calls "Ellis Island" hospitals, that the physicians are Indian, Pakistani, Filipino or Persian while white doctors work at "Mayflower" hospitals such as Massachusetts General. Most importantly this writer's humanity is evident on every page. Notice, for instance, Marion's guilt when he has to kill a man in order to save his own life and the lives of his family. While this book is certainly about doctors as healers-- and I sometimes felt as if I were taking Surgery 101 and looking over the shoulders of Hema, Ghosh and other doctors' shoulders as they performed surgical procedures and learned more medical terminology than I wanted to know-- this book is also about Ethiopia, where Dr. Verghese was born, a country that he obviously loves passionately. His descriptions of that country, particularly the sky, are beautiful: "In a country where you cannot decribe the beauty of the land without using the word 'sky,' the sight of three jets streaking up in a steep climb was breathtaking." Or "The sky had started off bluffing, convoys of gray clouds scurrying across like sheep to market. But by afternoon a perfect blue canopy stretched from horizon to horizon." And finally "The sky was a mad painter's canvas, as if halfway through the artist had decided against azure and had instead splashed ochre and crimson and black on the palette."
In one of dozens of moving passages in this novel, Marion says that he became a surgeon because the character Matron goaded him, telling him that he should not settle for playing "Three Blind Mice" when he could pay Bach's "Gloria." He, who played no instrument and did not read music, responded that he could not dream of playing the "Gloria," to which Matron answered :"Yours! Your 'Gloria' lives within you.'" If Dr. Verghese were a concert musician, his "Gloria" would receive a standing ovation from a grateful audience whose eyes would be burning, or in the words of the writer himself "foggy."
There should be a law against fiction being this good.
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