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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Review: Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

So, "Cutting for Stone." I'm still quite weak on the whole book review thing. Mostly I just want to jump up and down while telling you that you must read this book. This is a novel that I truly want to curl up and live inside. It's not that I want to experience the particular events described, which are often tragic, but I want to live in Abraham Verghese's prose. I want to surround myself with it, immerse myself in it, and be swathed in its protective force.

I know it seems that I am getting down with the hyperbole, but you've got to understand - I love this book. I read a review (I can't remember who wrote it, sorry) that said each chapter in "Cutting for Stone" is like its own short story. I thought that was such an apt description of this novel. In 600 pages it spans 70 years and after completing I could flip to any chapter and reengage with its story.

The story itself is of twin brothers who grow up in Ethiopia surrounded by love of family and love of medicine. The family life of the boys is absolutely idyllic, and I dare you not to fall in love with their adopted father. It's simply impossible; you will love Ghosh from the first. A doctor with a love of literature, is it too presumptuous on my part to say he may be a little of Verghese himself? (Probably, but will that keep me from pretending it is so? Nope.) Verghese is indeed a practicing physician who has written an earlier book, "My Own Country," about his experience with the AIDS epidemic while working in Johnson City, Tennessee.

"Cutting for Stone" is a novel that I am reluctant to describe. What is great about the novel transcends the plot. It is indeed the story of the two brothers, Marion and Shiva Stone, it is about family and love, loss and relationships, coming of age... but it is more than that as well, it is a deeply varied and layered novel that is incredibly affecting.

I want to share with you just a small piece of the novel as Marion describes how he feels about being initiated into the field of his parents, learning medicine, and the comfort it provides:
I loved those Latin words for their dignity, their foreignness, and the way my tongue had to wrap around them. I felt that in learning the special language of scholarly order, I was amassing a kind of force.
How perfect a description is that for passion? Not just Marion's passion for learning about medicine but for all of our passions whatever they may be. I surround myself with books, all day every day, it is the force I have amassed. My passion for them and the noble protection they provide is written in that passage.

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