Book Review: Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
January 3, 2012 32 Comments
Several times my blogging friends had recommended this book, so when I saw it in the book shop recently, I decided to buy it.
From the author’s name, which sounded Belgian/South African to me, I expected this story to take place in South Africa (I already knew it took place in Africa but had forgotten the details) and was thinking about diamond mines (cutting/stone).
Not so, the story takes place in Ethiopia, which was a surprise, but as it turned out, a nice one. I don’t know anything about Ethiopia so it was very interesting to read a story set in that country.
The story starts in the late 1950s when the narrator and his twin brother are born. The birth takes about 100 pages, although it’s intermixed with back stories of some of the main characters, so not-quite-100-pages only about the birth. When I read The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell, I was amazed about the description of a birth that went on for several pages, but in Cutting for Stone it went on quite a bit longer!
These weren’t the fastest 100 pages I’ve ever read, and for a while after, it was still a slow read. After about half-way the 500-odd pages, the book (and my reading speed) went a bit faster. I don’t like it when books are slow, although the story was good enough, it was just me, being impatient.
When Marion and his brother Shiva are born, their mother, a nun, dies, while their father, a surgeon in the Missionary hospital where the nun worked as a nurse, runs off, not being able to cope with the death of his lover.
The boys are raised by another doctor couple who don’t have children themselves and teach the boys a love for medicine. They grow up together with a girl, Genet, the daugther of a servant, who also goes off to study medicine.
But Shiva betrays Marion and the brothers fall out. Later, through Genet, Marion is forced to leave the country, and find somewhere else to practice medicine.
The book is about betrayal, abandonment, love, forgiveness, and much more.
I liked it that the story was about people with an Indian background working in Ethiopia. There were enough Ethiopians in the book (including the twins, while of Indian descent, they felt very much at home in the country) to make it feel like a genuine account of life in Ethiopia at the time.
There is some historical background, e.g., a coup on the emperor Haile Selassie and freedom fighting by Eritreans. There is also a good amount of medical information in the book, which I actually enjoyed for the most part. Sometimes I did think I could have done just fine with a bit less detail.
A moving book, a good read, but I wasn’t bowled over like some of my blogging friends.
I got this book: bought it in a book store
I read this in: English, the original language
Number of pages: 544
First published: 2009
Genre: historical fiction