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Cutting for Stone (Verghese) - Book Reviews

Book Reviews
Even with its many stories and layers, Cutting for Stone remains clear and concise. Verghese paints a vivid picture of these settings, the practice of medicine (he is also a physician) and the characters' inner conflicts. I felt as though I were with these people, eating dinner with them even, feeling the hot spongy injera on my fingers as they dipped it into a spicy wot. In The Interior Castle, Saint Teresa's work on mystical theology, she wrote, "I began to think of the soul as if it were a castle made of a single diamond or of very clear crystal, in which there are many rooms, just as in Heaven there are many mansions." Cutting for Stone shines like that place.
W. Ralph Eubanks - Washington Post


Engrossing.... Endearing.... A passionate, vivid, and informative novel.... [Verghese] paints a colorful, fact-filled, and loving portrait.... Verghese is at his best describing the landscape, the genial wisdom of the man who raises [twin brothers Marion and Shiva], the political upheavals that rupture the land he loves, and.... the medical and surgical challenges that confront this family of doctors.... Cutting for Stone is worth reading. Verghese is clearly a compassionate man in love with words and the subject matter to which he applies them.
Julie Wittes Schlack - Boston Globe


A novel set in Africa bears a heavy burden. The author must bring the continent home to help the reader sit in a chair and imagine vast, ancient, sorrowful, beautiful Africa. In the last decade I’ve read books narrated by characters homesick for Africa; books by or about child soldiers; books about politics; books full of splintering history. Cutting for Stone is the first straightforward novel set in and largely about Africa that I’ve read in a good long time–the kind Richard Russo or Cormac McCarthy might write, the kind that shows how history and landscape and accidents of birth and death conspire to create the story of a single life. Perhaps it is because the narrator is a doctor that you know there will be pain, healing, distance, perspective and a phoenix rising from the ashes of human error. Marion Stone reconstructs his half-century with a child’s wonder.... Verghese knows that beauty is the best way to draw us in.... The landscape and the characters who live and work [at Missing Hospital] create something greater than a community, more like an organism. The intimacy of the twins...the ghostly purity of their mother and the daily rhythms of the hospital create an inhabitable, safe place, on and off the page. In lesser hands, melodrama would be irresistible...but Verghese has created characters with integrity that will not be shattered by any event.... Verghese makes the point in his gentle way that violence begets violence; that fanaticism is born from pain.... Cutting for Stone owes its goodness to something greater than plot. It would not be possible to give away the story by simply telling you what happens. Verghese creates this story so lovingly that it is actually possible to live within it for the brief time one spends with this book. You may never leave the chair.... Lush and exotic...richly written.
Susan Salter Reynolds - Los Angeles Times


Abraham Verghese is a doctor, an accomplished memoirist and, as he proves in Cutting for Stone, something of a magician as a novelist. This sprawling, 50-year epic begins with a touch of alchemy: the birth of conjoined twins to an Indian nun in an Ethiopian hospital in 1954. The likely father, a British surgeon, flees upon the mother’s death, and the (now separated) baby boys are adopted by a loving Indian couple who run the hospital. Filled with mystical scenes and deeply felt characters–and opening a fascinating window onto the Third World—Cutting for Stone is an underdog and a winner. Shades of Slumdog Millionaire.
USA Today


Blood is thicker than water, and more copious, in this expansive novel about identical twin boys born in Addis Ababa in 1954 and instantly orphaned–their mother dies, their father flees. Raised by doctors at the hospital, Shiva and Marion soon begin practicing medicine themselves, but their lives unhappily diverge. The twins have a telepathic connection, and Marion, the narrator, believes he can recall their relationship in the womb. Verghese, a doctor, has an affinity for unstinting detail and unscientific intuition. The exhaustive gore of the medical procedures is matched by a poetic perception of the outside world–arriving in New York, Marion misses the cacophony of Addis Ababa’s roads, observing that in America ‘the cars were near silent, like a school of fish.’ Verghese bends history and coincidence to his narrative needs–characters cross paths when they should and find the information they seek–creating a story much like the human bodies Marion painstakingly describes: beautiful [and] amazing.
The New Yorker


Lauded for his sensitive memoir (My Own Country) about his time as a doctor in eastern Tennessee at the onset of the AIDS epidemic in the '80s, Verghese turns his formidable talents to fiction, mining his own life and experiences in a magnificent, sweeping novel that moves from India to Ethiopia to an inner-city hospital in New York City over decades and generations. Sister Mary Joseph Praise, a devout young nun, leaves the south Indian state of Kerala in 1947 for a missionary post in Yemen. During the arduous sea voyage, she saves the life of an English doctor bound for Ethiopia, Thomas Stone, who becomes a key player in her destiny when they meet up again at Missing Hospital in Addis Ababa. Seven years later, Sister Praise dies birthing twin boys: Shiva and Marion, the latter narrating his own and his brother's long, dramatic, biblical story set against the backdrop of political turmoil in Ethiopia, the life of the hospital compound in which they grow up and the love story of their adopted parents, both doctors at Missing. The boys become doctors as well and Verghese's weaving of the practice of medicine into the narrative is fascinating even as the story bobs and weaves with the power and coincidences of the best 19th-century novel.
Publishers Weekly


Focusing on the world of medicine, this epic first novel by well-known doctor/author Verghese (My Own Country) follows a man on a mythic quest to find his father. It begins with the dramatic birth of twins slightly joined at the skull, their father serving as surgeon and their mother dying on the table. The horrorstruck father vanishes, and the now separated boys are raised by two Indian doctors living on the grounds of a mission hospital in early 1950s Ethiopia. The boys both gravitate toward medical practice, with Marion the more studious one and Shiva a moody genius and loner. Also living on the hospital grounds is Genet, daughter of one of the maids, who grows up to be a beautiful and mysterious young woman and a source of ruinous competition between the brothers. After Marion is forced to flee the country for political reasons, he begins his medical residency at a poor hospital in New York City, and the past catches up with him. The medical background is fascinating as the author delves into fairly technical areas of human anatomy and surgical procedure. This novel succeeds on many levels and is recommended for all collections.
Jim Coan - Library Journal


There's a mystery, a coming-of-age, abundant melodrama and even more abundant medical lore in this idiosyncratic first novel from a doctor best known for the memoir My Own Country (1994). The nun is struggling to give birth in the hospital. The surgeon (is he also the father?) dithers. The late-arriving OB-GYN takes charge, losing the mother but saving her babies, identical twins. We are in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 1954. The Indian nun, Sister Mary Joseph Praise, was a trained nurse who had met the British surgeon Thomas Stone on a sea voyage ministering to passengers dying of typhus. She then served as his assistant for seven years. The emotionally repressed Stone never declared his love for her; had they really done the deed? After the delivery, Stone rejects the babies and leaves Ethiopia. This is good news for Hema (Dr. Hemalatha, the Indian gynecologist), who becomes their surrogate mother and names them Shiva and Marion. When Shiva stops breathing, Dr. Ghosh (another Indian) diagnoses his apnea; again, a medical emergency throws two characters together. Ghosh and Hema marry and make a happy family of four. Marion eventually emerges as narrator. "Where but in medicine," he asks, "might our conjoined, matricidal, patrifugal, twisted fate be explained?" The question is key, revealing Verghese's intent: a family saga in the context of medicine. The ambition is laudable, but too often accounts of operations—a bowel obstruction here, a vasectomy there—overwhelm the narrative. Characterization suffers. The boys' Ethiopian identity goes unexplored. Shiva is an enigma, though it's no surprise he'll have a medical career, like his brother, though far less orthodox. They become estranged over a girl, and eventually Marion leaves for America and an internship in the Bronx (the final, most suspenseful section). Once again a medical emergency defines the characters, though they are not large enough to fill the positively operatic roles Verghese has ordained for them. A bold but flawed debut novel.
Kirkus Reviews




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