Review: Cutting for Stone

Cutting for Stone

Cutting for Stone
By Abraham Verghese
(Vintage, Paperback, 9780375714368, January 2010, 688pp.)

The Short of It:

Full of sorrow and pain, wonder and joy.

The Rest of It:

Such a heartfelt tale and so popular among readers. What’s left to say? Well, lots. In case you are not familiar with the plot, here is the blurb from the publisher:

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.

This really is a family saga. Maybe not your idea of a traditional family, for sure, but a family saga nonetheless. The birth of these boys affect so many…the loving couple that raise them, the extended “family” of servants, and everyone they come in contact with while at the hospital. Although the same in many ways, these boys are quite different. Shiva is more matter-of-fact and direct than his brother, Marion. Marion is a bit more complex, but perhaps that’s just perception on my end since the story is told from Marion’s point of view. Either way, the two boys make a whole, and that is addressed a few times in the novel as well as at the end of the story.

For me, much of it was fascinating. The surgical procedures, although drawn-out a tad too long, held my attention and made me see the characters in a different light. Hema and Ghosh, the two Indian doctors who raise the boys, were probably my favorite characters in the story.  They were sensible, yet very loving towards the boys and instilled in them a love of medicine. Their relationship with the boys was very touching and heartbreakingly real. I loved seeing them in this light.

However, I had some issues with Marion and Genet, his childhood friend. Without giving the story away, I will just say that I was disappointed with these characters. As genuine as Marion’s voice was throughout his tale, his voice faltered a bit towards the last quarter of the book. To me, he fell out of character and for that moment, I didn’t like him at all. Perhaps, Verghese’s decision to go there, had everything to do with making Marion a real, living breathing person, one with faults of his own. However, it didn’t work for me and it left me feeling frustrated with Marion and I’m sure that was not the author’s intent.

The issues that I had with Genet, had to do with motivation. I didn’t understand the motive behind her actions. Although she was a servant’s daughter, she was really raised in the same home as Shiva and Marion. She had access to the same amenities that they did as far as education goes, yet she flounders continuously and can’t seem to make wise choices. As I approached that last part of the book, I was further confused by her actions. She was such an important piece of Marion’s life, yet she almost seemed like a throw-away character towards the end.

Overall, I was touched by the relationship between Hema, Ghosh and these orphaned boys. Touched enough to overlook the issues I mentioned. In an interview on NPR, it was noted that the book was heavily edited. Perhaps something was lost in those edits, that would have explained the deviation from character that I mentioned. Perhaps Genet’s motivation was more fleshed out. Regardless, the book is very thought-provoking. My book club had plenty to talk about and I am still thinking about the story.

Source: Purchased

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22 thoughts on “Review: Cutting for Stone”

  1. I never went there with Genet I guess. Perhaps she was throw-away, but I saw her more as an instrument of fate. I was frustrated that Marion couldn’t seem to get over her, but then again they were bonded from childhood. I did so love this book, and I didn’t expect to.

    1. I can see how you’d see her as an instrument of fate. I suppose by that part, I was already thinking the “two halves make a whole” thing and focusing on the cycle of life. I was so angry over her actions that I began to really dislike her. Childhood friend or not. Plus, his treatment of her (without giving too much away) made me consider her a throw-away character. I wouldn’t be surprised if the 300+ pages edited out of the book had to do with her.

  2. I listened to the audio version when this book was first released and I thought it was wonderful. I’ve recommended it to so many who have also enjoyed it. Glad it worked for you as well Ti (I wasn’t aware of the editing, so your point there makes real sense).

  3. I also loved Hema and Ghosh! There were moments when I felt the book needed an editor, but by the end I really liked it. I got so pulled into the story of the brothers and their extended families

    1. I was taken with the extended family too. Rosina was frustrating at times but believable. Loved Matron. After listening to the NPR interview, my respect for the author grew even more. I can’t believe that he would even have the time to write a novel of this scope while still practicing medicine.

  4. I had several problems with Marion, many having to do with Genet, but towards the end I thought he was too different, too. And Genet< I was shocked by her behavior at the end and it didn't fit for me. She contradicted herself. I liked Hema but she annoyed me a few times, Ghosh was great. I thought the book was a little too long too but overall I liked it alot.

    I really enjoyed your review!

    1. I couldn’t agree more! Hema was funny as a mother. Funny in the way she addressed issues head on, but I had a great deal of respect for her and Ghosh. So I can sort of see your annoyance with her. Especially the labor! It went on forever. I was like “Woman! Do something now!” LOL.

    1. When it first came out, I had no desire to read it. But when my book club selected it, I figured it would get read at some point. I’m glad I read it. Verghese is a gifted writer. I look forward to more books by him.

  5. I absolutely have to read this. I’ve seen so many great reviews! I do feel frustrated when I feel like I know a character and they start making decisions that confuse me like that. But I think I’m willing to forego that to read this and see what everyone is raving about!!

  6. Hema and Ghosh were my favorites too. They felt so real and lived-in and I just loved them. And I thought the author made medicince (especially surgery) come alive in a way I’ve never seen before. It was a good read.

  7. Wow, I didn’t realize it had been heavily edited…it had to have been quite the chunkster to start with! I was disappointed with Genet, too…I expected better from her, which is kind of shallow of me as a reader.

    1. I don’t think that makes us shallow readers. I think it demonstrates just how involved we are with the story. Involved enough to be disappointed with a character. If we didn’t care it wouldn’t matter.

  8. I love books that you keep thinking about long after you finish them. This one is on my shelf and I keep putting it off because of the length but it sounds like I shouldn’t!

    1. It’s chunky for sure but you know what? The length didn’t bother me at all. The only comment I heard from my book club is that the surgical procedures went on for too long, but I like that stuff so I didn’t mind.

  9. Wow Ti, it’s that good aye? I borrowed it then returned it, hell of a big book, i’ll just have to prepare myself mentally to read it. 🙂

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