Article published on April 1, 2016.
Gifted storyteller Abraham Verghese offers an amazing family saga set in Africa and America. Cutting for Stone takes the reader on a remarkable journey through life and death and the wonder of medicine. This epic novel has touched everyone I’ve talked to who has read it. Spanning continents and generations, the story of orphaned twin brothers takes us from a small mission hospital in Ethiopia on to India and America.
Marion and Shiva Stone were born of a secret union between a beautiful Indian nun and a brash British surgeon. As the boys come of age and share a passion for medicine, it is the passion for a woman that will drive them apart. Marion flees to America where he finds refuge in his work in an overcrowded New York City hospital. When his past catches up to him, Marion must entrust his life to the two men he trusts least—the brother who betrayed him and the father who abandoned him.
There is something for everyone in this novel: the often unique relationship between twins, the incredible love of adoptive parents, the struggles of doing medicine in remote places, the challenges of immigration to a new country, and the pain of losing someone that you love.
Beautifully written, the novel is elegant and the characters are unforgettable. In the book, Marion observes that in Ethiopia, patients assume that all illnesses are fatal and that death is expected, but in America, news of having a fatal illness “always seemed to come as a surprise, as if we took for granted that we were immortal”.
The title is more than a play on words about a surgeon called Stone. It comes from the Hippocratic Oath “I will not cut for stone, even for patients in whom the disease is manifest; I will leave this operation to be performed by practitioners, specialists in this art”. Verghese, a physician himself, has said that this line comes from ancient times when stone cutters would go digging for bladder stones and the patient would usually die of infection.
Medical stuff has always intrigued me, but I love the part when Thomas Stone asks “What treatment in an emergency is administered by ear?” The answer is memorable, but I won’t spoil it for you. You’ll have to find out for yourself!
Joanne Booy – and check out Joanne’s Blog for more great recommendations
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
Vintage pbk 2009