Cutting for Stone is a beautiful and moving story. I think it is one of the best I have read in many a year and highly recommend it to you.
Abraham Verghese, born in Ethiopia to parents from Kerala, India, finished his medical studies in Madras (now Chennai) and did his residency in the United States - landing in Johnson City, Tennessee (a place I have actually traveled to) and eventually becoming the Professor for the Theory and Practice of Medicine at Stanford University Medical School and Senior Associate Chair of the Department of Internal Medicine. Clearly, another one of those immigrant, underachieving drains on our society we must all be on the lookout for to keep out of these United States.
In the early 90s, he put his medical career on hold to attend the University of Iowa Writer's Workshop, earning his Master's of Fine Arts. His first book, My Country: A Doctor's Story telling of his experiences in Eastern Tennessee as a foreigner and as a doctor working with AIDS patients, was made into a pretty interesting movie. His second book, The Tennis Partner: A Story of Friendship and Loss, tells of his dear friend (and yes, tennis partner) who ultimately dies from his drug addiction. Cutting for Stone is his most recent effort.
And a wonderful effort it is indeed. Cutting for Stone is a story of family, a story of brothers and lovers, of doctors and the heroic efforts of doctors in impoverished developing countries. It is the story of Ethiopia and the political turmoil it has endured...and continues to endure. It is a story of abandonment and loss and displacement.
Verghese creates unforgettable characters and unforgettable scenes. He intertwines details of medical procedures and their impact on the human body with fabulous character development. He creates action and drama that makes you sit on the edge of your seat. Verghese will make you laugh and cry. He will uplift your spirit and burden your soul with sorrow. Cutting for Stone is a remarkable book and given the depth of detail, feeling, and character, it is hard not to believe that some of this just must be autobiographical. The narrator is born in Ethopia of Indian parentage and eventually ends up working in the United States.....the book, its themes and characters, and the weaving of all of this together is a brilliant work of fiction regardless of the source of inspiration.
The plot or plots, I should say, are intriguing and engaging. Sister Mary Joseph Praise sets out from Kerala, India in 1947 for a post in Yemen. On the voyage over, she encounters (and saves the life of) a young Scottish doctor (Thomas Stone) on his way to Ethiopia. Eventually, they both end up at the same small hospital in Addis Ababa. Years later, Sister Praise dies in childbirth, leaving behind twin boys, Marion and Shiva....Marion is our narrator. Abandoned by their father, the rest of the story is the story of the twins, the Hospital, Ethiopia, and the Ethiopian Indian diaspora. Verghese creates unforgettable characters -- Ghosh and Hema, are the hospital doctors that become the twin's adoptive parents and Verghese brings them to life completely and compellingly. Even minor characters are beautifully created -- Marion's best friend and love interest, Genet and her mother Rosina - their lives and their stories will make you weep. Deepak, the chief resident at the hospital Marion joins after coming to the US, is a minor novel all on his own. From the taxi driver to the ex-prostitute expat, Verghese imbues each and every character with meaning. The book long exploration of the heart, soul, behavior, and accomplishments of Thomas Stone is simply a tour de force.
This is a coming of age book and a cross generation exploration of accomplishment and service. Verghese is a terrific writer - plot, prose, emotion, impact -- he can and does deliver it all. If you have not, you should read Cutting for Stone.