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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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