Monday, April 25, 2011
by Abraham Verghese, Vintage, January 2010
this is a sweeping saga...that you should dive into
Cutting for Stone (drawn from a phrase in the Hippocratic Oath) is a sweeping saga set in India, Ethiopia and New York City. The author, Abraham Verghese, has drawn from his own life as a surgeon and Indian immigrant to America as he tells a tale of conjoined twin boys born to an Indian nun and a talented British surgeon. The majority of the action is set in Addis Abba and the political events of the last half of the 20th century are the backdrop for this story of love - parental love, fraternal love, unrequited love and love of country and community. I really don’t want to give away too many plot details so you have the pleasure of gradually understanding and being drawn into this complex compelling story yourself.
A couple things stand out about the story. First, Verghese has a talent for creating characters that are fully developed and giving them both heart and soul. Each of the major players has a back-story told with sufficient detail to allow understanding of their actions in the story. Secondly there is a strong sense of place in this story, I’ve never been to Ethiopia but after reading this I feel like I have. The descriptions of Addis right down to the food really brought it to life for me. Can’t wait to try some injera! Lastly the author’s ability to integrate the medical aspects of this story into the narrative I thought was exceptional. I do have a medical background so I wasn’t at all put off with his descriptions of surgical procedures but some readers might be. I thought the author’s passion for medicine and surgery came through in his writing.
While I really enjoyed this story I do have two criticisms. The story was long and I think a good editor could have helped in tightening some of the writing without losing the epic sweep of the story. Secondly, the contrived actions that brought the novel to its conclusion seemed widely unrealistic after a story that was so grounded in the realism of life and medical practice in a third world country. Neither of these criticisms should keep you from diving into this story. I eagerly await this author’s next effort.
I read a copy of this book I borrowed from a friend.