Book Review: Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

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.

Rating: 4/5

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

About Leeswammes
I'm owner and editor at bookhelpline.com. In my free time, I read and review books on my two blogs, Leeswammes' Blog and De Boekblogger.

32 Responses to Book Review: Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

  1. Mystica says:

    This book has been around for sometime now. The size of the volume put me off initially but I think having read your review I must get to it. I like the Indian story set in Ethiopia bit – a country I know nothing about.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Mystica, Ethiopia was (is) very unknown to me too, so that was interesting. It still is a long book, though, but if you’re interested in the topic, definitely worth a read.

  2. I have read so many good reviews about this book, and yet they never convinced me… But now…?
    You did it again, Judith!

  3. I absolutely loved the first half of this book. I was less satisfied when the action left Africa, but I would still recommend it. I’m glad you enjoyed it, Judith!

    • Leeswammes says:

      Col, I found the first half of the book slow going but I can also understand why you would have loved it. I haven’t heard of other books by this author, although there must be some! I may try him.

  4. I loved the audio version of this one so much and the year I read it it was my #1 book of the year. Glad you did at least enjoy it.

  5. I have read enough of this book to stand by my DNF… sadly. I made it through the twins being rasied by the other couple and know the brothers are at odds with each other. Sounds like I didn’t miss anything from your review.🙂

    • Leeswammes says:

      You missed a lot, Mari! It gets quite dramatic. But I felt ambivalent about the book for a while and was thinking that I could easily NOT finish it. But as I didn’t dislike the story, I continued.

  6. I have this book at home but keep putting it down due to the number of pages and small writing (not a good way to choose a book but hey :)). I’m glad you liked it overall as I have heard good things about this book too. One day…

    • Leeswammes says:

      Well, my problem too, Boof: small writing, many pages. But I told myself to read it over Christmas and so I did (and some other days – it took me longer than the average book.

  7. Hm, not sure now whether to read it. I really don’t like slow books or those that spend a lot of pages on one event. That is actually why I threw Midnight’s Children onto the DNF pile. And so many pages too, to get through, 500+ :s

    • Leeswammes says:

      I don’t know whether to recommend it to you, Chinioseries. I haven’t read Midnight’s Children so I can’t compare. The birth is interesting to read about, even if it’s slow.

  8. booketta says:

    I loved this book and gave it 5*. I’m pleased you liked it too, this is the first review I have come across since I read the book.

  9. Cindy says:

    I’m lagging behind on blogging and reading. Happy new year, Judith.

  10. Suzanne says:

    I’m glad you enjoyed it Judith. I think it’s one of those books you just have to be in the right mood for, not only because of its length but for its subject matter as well.

    • Leeswammes says:

      I think that’s true, Suzanne. Length is always an issue for me, because I have so much to read. But the subject matter… I did enjoy – there was a lot of medical stuff but most of the time, that was fine.

  11. Tes says:

    Oh Judith! I am intriguing about 100 pages about the birth! Oh that’s must be another level of experience I hope to tried in this book🙂

    • Leeswammes says:

      Tes, the birth itself is not exactly 100 pages long as in between describing the birth, there is the story of the people who are present at the birth, but yes, the birth itself takes a lot of pages.

  12. I have two copies of this book on my shelf. I have yet to read them. I think at one point I had three copies. Every time I would see a copy in the library bookstore, I would buy it thinking this looks like a great book, then get home and look on my bookshelf and see that I already had it.😦 I would’ve sent you one if I had known.🙂 I suppose I should read it, since obviously something about it keeps catching my attention. Nice to see it’s an excellent book. Loved the review.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Lena, it’s obvious that you are attracted to the book. You just have to read it. Or at least, give yourself 100 pages to see if you like it, then decide whether to read the rest.

  13. Tiina says:

    100 pages about a birth!! Your review made me curious. I’m sure I’ll get to this book sooner or later.🙂 Another novel set (partly) in Ethiopia is Sweetness in the Belly by Camilla Gibb. I simply loved that one.

  14. Marie says:

    Very nice review! You’ve convinced me to give it a try. It’ll be my first book set in Ethiopia. Thanks!

  15. It did have a slow start. I know I raved about this book when I reviewed it and I think partially because my book club read this for a cook book that was going to be published. We were asked to read the book and cook the food and the food was FANTASTIC. Something about that experience lifted the whole idea of the book to me. I think I rated it a 4 as well.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Yes, it probably was the whole experience around the book that made it interesting, Sheila. I remember I bookmarked your page with all those lovely recipes. Which I still haven’t made…. but planning to!

  16. ClaireMcA says:

    I totally devoured this book and was bereft when it ended, not sure what to read next. I think that may have been because the book I’d read previously had taken me two weeks to read and I wasn’t impressed with it but persevered anyway. So this was a breeze in comparison, I loved the geography of it, the travel, the locations, the hardship, the medical insights, all of it. Verghese is an inspiration in himself and promises not to take as long to write his next book. Thanks for the follow Leeswammes.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Claire, you liked the book better than me but in my case also, it was partially of what I’d been reading before. I will read more of Verghese, for sure. Like you, I liked the locations and the medical insights, etc.

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