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Cutting for Stone

Image of Cutting for Stone: A novel
It speaks to Abraham Verghese's skills as an author that a 500-plus page book of historical fiction, with long graphic descriptions of medical problems like vaginal fistulas, can still become enormously popular.

Reading Cutting for Stone: A novel   is a commitment. After a brief prelude set in the present , the story runs chronologically, beginning in 1954 at a hospital in Addis Ababa with the birth of conjoined twins Marion and Shiva Stone. The twins survive, barely, as they are the product of an unholy union between a surgeon and nun who dies in childbirth, The boys are rescued by two Missing Hospital doctors, both Indian, who commit to raising them during a turbulent period in Ethiopia.

Verghese has a beautiful style of writing, with elements of magical realism, and his clear love for Ethiopia and medicine shine through. His main thesis - that geography is destiny - is explored thoroughly and in a far less depressing fashion than Little Bee: A Novel or The White Tiger: A Novel . As the reader will see in the acknowledgements, Verghese is a scrupulous and humble researcher, although some historical events are altered slightly for literary purposes.

There are also wonderful , subtle commentaries on Third-World countries and foreign aid, such as when the Matron of Missing explains to a potential benefactor how the hospital has no shortage of Bibles but no medical supplies.
And there's a passage toward the latter half, when Marion reunites with a childhood friend named Tsige and she delivers a speech about how she had prayed for him, that I found deeply moving.

The problems lie in the attempt to cram 50 years of history and characters into an all-encompassing story. Genet, Marion's childhood love, never quite gels - is she rebellious, bored, crazy, or all of the above? And while I totally geek out over literary descriptions of medical procedures, it's possible it will not be your cup of tea. Finally, while the plot moves along, it's far from the rapid-fire style of so many modern novels. That's fine with me - it's always a pleasure to read an author's style of writing that doesn't seem lifted from the playbook of Jonathan Safron Foer - but it takes some adjustment.

All in all, I didn't finish Cutting for Stone: A novel and think "all my friends have to read this." But I look forward to Verghese's next novel and recommend Cutting for Stone: A novel for those who liked The Namesake: A Novel , A Thousand Splendid Suns or Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood . You may also like it if you enjoyed The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao .

 

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