2 words that describe the book―Literary Medicine
3 setting where the book took place or characters I met
- Setting: Missing Hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and New York City
- Marion Stone is our narrator and one of the twin boys born to Sister Mary Joseph Praise during a tragic birth scene that will leave you breathless. With no one aware that she was pregnant, Sister’s labor is unexpected, bloody and emotional. The apparent father—Dr. Thomas Stone—falls apart and abandons his sons, leaving them to be raised by the staff of Missing Hospital where they both worked. Trying to make sense of his heritage and his parents, Marion seeks to find out the history of his family and what the future will hold for him and his twin brother Shiva.
- Ghosh and Hema are two doctors at Missing Hospital who worked with Sister and Dr. Stone. They take on the raising of the brothers and influence them in their career paths—with Shiva being mentored by Hema and Marion being mentored by Ghosh. These two were my favorite characters in the whole book, and I actually missed them when the narrative didn’t have them as a focus.
4 things I liked or disliked about the book
- I read that Vergheses is a physician himself, and it shows throughout the book. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that brought to life the feel and stresses of medicine (particularly surgery) in quite the way this book did. Verghese brings you right into the operating room with his characters and exposes you to the life of a physician in a way I haven’t ever seen before. It is obvious that Verghese is passionate about his profession, and that passion is apparent throughout this novel.
- Verghese brings to life the Addis Ababa where the Stone boys were born and grew up. He also deftly weaves in the story of the overthrow of Emperor Halie Selassie and the subsequent civil unrest that rocked the country, including the country’s ongoing dispute with Eritrea. I thought Verghese did a wonderful job of bringing the beauties and turmoil of Ethiopia to life and weaving them into his story in a way that felt natural and realistic.
- Verghese has an almost poetic writing style that resulted in many eloquent turns of phrase. In the Kindle version I was reading, I was able to see quotes that other readers had highlighted (with the new “Popular Highlights” feature), and I kept thinking “Wow … that is some lovely writing.” Here are a few examples:
The key to your happiness is to own your slippers, own who you are, own how you look, own your family, own the talents you have, and own the ones you don’t. If you keep saying your slippers aren’t yours, then you’ll die searching, you’ll die bitter, always feeling you were promised more. Not only our actions, but also our omissions, become our destiny.
Life, too, is like that. You live it forward, but understand it backward. It is only when you stop and look to the rear that you see the corpse caught under your wheel.
Wasn’t that the definition of home? Not where you are from, but where you are wanted?
We are all fixing what is broken. It is the task of a lifetime. We’ll leave much unfinished for the next generation.
- Although the novel seemed very grounded in reality and history while still having a “magical realism” feel to it, I had some trouble with some of the plotting, which seemed to rely a bit too much on coincidence and “convenient” happenings. One part that particularly bothered me was when Marion meets up again with Thomas Stone. It didn’t feel right to me at all and rankled me quite a bit. I also felt that Verghese didn’t quite know what to do with the character of Genet, a troubled girl who grows up with the twins.
5 stars or less for my rating:
I’m giving the book 4 stars. This is an impressive piece of literary fiction that brings surgery and medicine to life in a way I’ve never seen before. Although I had some issues with the plotting, I was willing to overlook them for Vergheses’s strong writing and ability to weave history and a family’s personal story into a narrative that will stay with you for some time afterward.
A question for those who read the book already: I know that Verghese addresses the title of the book a few times in different parts of the book. But I’m still not sure I understand what “cutting for stone” meant. Can you help me out?
The Whys and Wheres: I bought this book for my Kindle with my Mother’s Day Amazon gift certificate after seeing quite a few bloggers reading it.
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