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2,696 of 2,768 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "We are all fixing what is broken. It is the task of a lifetime."
This brilliant novel revolves around what is broken -- limbs, family ties, trust -- and the process of rebuilding them. It starts with the birth of twin boys to a nursing nun, Sister Mary Praise Joseph, in a small hospital on the outskirts of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; an event which no one had expected: "The everyday miracle of conception had taken place in the one place it...
Published on February 12, 2009 by S. McGee

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85 of 93 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great writing, review influenced by one scene
*MAJOR SPOILER ALERT*
I have to say I agree with most of the positive reviews here that overall this was a beautifully written, well-researched book. I was hooked from the start and loved the historical and medical aspects of the story.

I have a hard time writing anything negative about a piece of work someone has obviously poured their heart and soul...
Published on May 10, 2010 by Ericka J.


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2,696 of 2,768 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "We are all fixing what is broken. It is the task of a lifetime.", February 12, 2009
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This brilliant novel revolves around what is broken -- limbs, family ties, trust -- and the process of rebuilding them. It starts with the birth of twin boys to a nursing nun, Sister Mary Praise Joseph, in a small hospital on the outskirts of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; an event which no one had expected: "The everyday miracle of conception had taken place in the one place it should not have: in Sister Mary Praise Joseph's womb." The delivery rapidly becomes a debacle when it's clear that Mary Praise Joseph can't deliver her baby normally; the last minute arrival home at "Missing" (the Mission Hospital) by Indian obstetrician Hema saves the children, but their mother dies and their presumed father father, surgeon Thomas Stone, disappears into the night.

That brief summary does no justice to Verghese's powerful and remarkable prose style or the structure of the first part of the book which, although it revolves around the tragedy that claims the life of the twins' mother, also introduces the other main characters who will take the place of their biological parents. Darting back and forth between the events in the surgical theater (as Thomas Stone, horrified at what he sees, first tries to save Mary Joseph Praise's life by collapsing the skull of the infant he believes cannot be born alive), the mundane daily activities of his fellow doctor, Ghosh (trying to escape what he believes is a hopeless love for Hema) and Hema's struggle to get home to Missing from her annual holiday in India, the reader will find it impossible to put the book down and wants only to find a way of reading faster and faster to discover what happens next. By the time the twins are born, attached by a blood vessel at the head and separated at the last moment by Stone and Hema to save their lives, the reader will find himself or herself resenting every moment not spent following this story until the tale is told. And even when you are finished, the novel and its more-than-compelling characters will linger on in your mind...

Separated at birth, the twins grow up in the Ethiopia of the Emperor Haile Selaisse's reign, and Verghese introduces the reader to an ancient world that will be new to most readers, with all its flavors, colors, scents and sounds. His remarkable artistry ensures that this is never jarring but always intriguing and that the characters -- Indian expatriate doctors raising their two foster children, born to an Indian nun and an American surgeon, with the help of an Eritrean caretaker and her own daughter -- feel as familiar to us as if they were members of our own family. In the manner of a classic epic, Verghese picks his themes -- separation, the intersection of sex and death, wounds and what surgery can and can't accomplish -- and sticks to them throughout. And yet, those themes -- sweeping ones for any novelist to tackle -- never overshadow the fact that this is, at its core, the story of two brothers, Shiva and Marion -- or ShivaMarion, as Marion, the narrator, describes their single-minded unity in their youngest years.

Ultimately, the political events in Ethiopia and family betrayals send Marion fleeing to the United States. His odyssey seems to rupture all these ties and yet by the time the novel ends, we realize that every step has, in fact, been bringing Marion, Shiva and their extended family closer together as well as toward a resolution of the various plot twists. Training as a surgeon in a Bronx hospital where the only interns are from overseas ("the bloodlines from the Mayflower hadn't trickled down to this zip code", Marion reflects wryly), the finally encounters his birth father in person -- with dramatic consequences -- and has a chance to make peace with Thomas Stone, Shiva -- and himself.

Anyone familiar with Veghese's non-fiction writing (two very compelling memoirs, My Own Country: A Doctor's Story and The Tennis Partner) knows that he is an impeccable prose stylist. But relatively few non-fiction writers can also write wonderful fiction, much less produce this kind of complex drama. Rarer still is that this is a debut novel. Even the remarkable coincidences of the final third of the book never feel anything less than pitch-perfect: a real tribute to both Verghese's carefully-constructed plot and his eloquent, pitch-perfect writing.

It is rare for me to stumble over a novel of such a high caliber, one that creates the kind of characters I have never met before, characters who now are as vividly alive in my mind as any of the real individuals who populate my world. May this be only the first of many novels that Verghese produces for us, his lucky readers.
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633 of 651 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Are You Your Brother's Keeper?, February 10, 2009
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Throughout this magnificent novel, this question is answered affirmatively over and over again. Whether your brother is your identical twin, an orphaned child, an unfortunate neighbor, or a stranger, each person deserves to be cared for.

Beginning in India, the story progresses to Africa where it remains until the protagonist immigrates to America. Marion, the narrator of this fictional autobiography, is one of a set of identical twins. His birth and life at the mission, Missing, provide the basis for the conflicts and triumphs contained in the novel. The historical backdrop, Ethiopia's internal conflicts and coups, impart additional depth to the book's realistic atmosphere. The title "Cutting for Stone" is taken from the Hippocratic oath, but may also reflect a double meaning. The biological father of the Marion and his twin, Shiva, is Thomas Stone, a famous surgeon. In what may be a subconscious effort to emulate and impress their absent parent, both become skilled surgeons. They are "Cutting for Stone".

This is one of the most outstanding books I have been privileged to read. Verghese is a skilled writer and draws the reader into the book immediately. The characters are strong, interesting, and very human; the conflicts are realistic and keep the pace of the novel moving forward. Even minor characters are sufficiently well developed so that the reader would like to know more about their lives. There is gentle humor, emotional turmoil, and great personal triumph throughout the book.

Allow yourself the luxury of time to read "Cutting for Stone" without interruption. If you do not, you will find yourself thinking about the characters and wondering what is going to happen to each one. In my opinion, that is the mark of a great book - the author has captured your attention and quietly demands you give it to nothing else. When a book as fine as "Cutting for Stone" is involved, you are more than happy to comply. You can, if necessary, read this book in multiple sessions without losing interest or forgetting what has previously occurred.

Had I been allowed to rate this book more than five stars, I would have done so. It is truly a masterpiece.
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482 of 513 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fiction at it's Best, February 10, 2009
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Amazon Customer (CA, United States) - See all my reviews
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Many readers will tell you that Cutting for Stone is the epic story of two conjoined twins fathered by a brilliant British Surgeon and an Indian Nun. And it technically is. Narrated by Marion the first born twin we are told of every influence on his and his brother's existence. More than the story being told however, the novel is an accurate portrayal of life in all it's cruelty and wonder.

The twin's mother dies in childbirth and their father abandons them minutes later. They are raised in a missionary medical hospital in Ethiopia. As they grow up they are forced to face their past and futures re-defining the meanings of destiny, love and family.

While reading you will notice the fine points are painstakingly researched as the story is and packed full of medical jargon and situations along with vivid descriptions of Ethiopian culture and history. My only reservation in recommending the book is the novels "hard moments" as almost every imaginable tragedy touches these brothers, and medical operations and oddities are very detailed. Squeamish readers may want to skim some of these passages.

All in all, this novel is elegantly told, superbly structured and the most original piece of fiction I've read in years. It's deserving of every positive adjective I can throw at it; marvelous, and thrilling. You will want to own and lose yourself in this book again and again. Buy it now, and thank me later.
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158 of 166 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best book of 2009?, February 17, 2009
By 
JustMelissa (New Jersey, USA) - See all my reviews
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The plot of this book can be summed up neatly: Cutting for Stone follows the lives of two boys from birth to adulthood. The boys, Marion and Shiva are identical twins orphaned at birth who are raised by a surrogate family and grow up on the grounds of Missing Hospital in Ethiopia. Although they individuate in adolescence, their lives continue to be intertwined and develop along parallel paths. Eventually both men practice medicine, one in America and the other in Ethiopia. However, this book is so much more than plot.

Cutting for Stone is a beautifully written coming-of-age novel weaving family, hospital and house staff, patients, community, disease, and country into a complex tapestry. It incorporates love, lust, trust, betrayal, commitment, emigration, faith, poverty, life, death, hope, dreams, fears, and just about every other big theme you can imagine without ever becoming predictable, manipulative, or cliched. It's an epic story that feels intimate and cozy and enveloping. The characters are like family and I'd feel at home if I visited Missing Hospital, Matron, and the staff.

I usually read quickly, finishing a book in a day or two. Cutting for Stone took more than a week. The story was compelling, but I read slowly to savor the words and picture Addis Ababa through Marion's eyes. I didn't want the journey to end.

I will be recommending this book to all my reading friends for a long time to come and can't wait for Dr. Verghese to pass through my city on his book tour. Go grab a copy and start reading - you won't be disappointed.
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107 of 111 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Your 'Gloria' Lives Within You.", February 10, 2009
CUTTING FOR STONE (a reference to the Hippocratic Oath, "I will not cut for stone"), Dr. Abraham Verghese's first novel, is a massive linear story of over 500 pages reminiscent of the great 19th century British novels-- Charles Dickens comes to mind, and one of the characters reads George Eliot's MIDDLEMARCH-- and first cousins with the novels of John Irving and Khaled Hosseini, another physician who, as the whole literary world knows, gave us THE KITE RUNNER and A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS. (That is not to say that this fine work of fiction is derivative in any way.) Verghese writes with the passion of Thomas Wolfe; but contrary to what that North Carolina writer said, sometimes you can go home again. The narrator of CUTTING FOR STONE is Marion, an identical twin of Shiva. They are born in Ethiopia in 1954 of an Indian mother and British father. Marion and Shiva's lives resonated with me-- at least a little-- since I am also a twin, through fraternal. Just like Marion and Shiva, my brother and I will go to our graves remembered by many (if at all) as simply "the twins." The action covers continents: Africa, Asia, Europe-- at least a brief stopover by Marion and his stepmother Hema in Rome near the end of the novel-- and North America. In addition to these three characters, there are Hema's husband Ghosh, Genet, Thomas Stone, Sister Mary Joseph Praise and a host of others you will be haunted by when you finish this novel.

Dr. Verghese's first book, a work of nonfiction, MY OWN COUNTRY, may well be the best thing ever written about AIDS. It is the doctor's account of the time he spent treating AIDS patients in the mid-eighties at the VA hospital in Johnson City, Tennessee, some sixty miles from where I grew up so I recognized many of the people he wrote about. His second book THE TENNIS PARTNER is a sad but beautifully written treatise on friendship. I wondered then if the author could match these two earlier successes with a work of fiction. The answer is a resounding "yes." This novel has everything going for it. In addition to the story that covers continents and characters whose fates will break your heart, The tone of the novel and Verghese's themes certainly satisfy Matthew Arnold's requirements for high seriousness: betrayal, missed opportunities, the definition of family-- doesn't our family consist of those people who love us?-- love and forgiveness.

Dr. Verghese in CUTTING FOR STONE returns to concerns he has written about previously, particularly in MY OWN COUNTRY, where he went to great lengths to express his belief that patients are people, regardless of their illness or station in life and should be treated as such-- or as Marion says here, not just a "'diabetic foot in bed two' or 'myocardial infarction in bed three.'" He also has written of the plight of Indian doctors in the U. S. who are too often seen as second class citizens who are caring for other second class citizens. Here Marion's friend Gandhi reminds him that at hospitals that he calls "Ellis Island" hospitals, that the physicians are Indian, Pakistani, Filipino or Persian while white doctors work at "Mayflower" hospitals such as Massachusetts General. Most importantly this writer's humanity is evident on every page. Notice, for instance, Marion's guilt when he has to kill a man in order to save his own life and the lives of his family. While this book is certainly about doctors as healers-- and I sometimes felt as if I were taking Surgery 101 and looking over the shoulders of Hema, Ghosh and other doctors' shoulders as they performed surgical procedures and learned more medical terminology than I wanted to know-- this book is also about Ethiopia, where Dr. Verghese was born, a country that he obviously loves passionately. His descriptions of that country, particularly the sky, are beautiful: "In a country where you cannot decribe the beauty of the land without using the word 'sky,' the sight of three jets streaking up in a steep climb was breathtaking." Or "The sky had started off bluffing, convoys of gray clouds scurrying across like sheep to market. But by afternoon a perfect blue canopy stretched from horizon to horizon." And finally "The sky was a mad painter's canvas, as if halfway through the artist had decided against azure and had instead splashed ochre and crimson and black on the palette."

In one of dozens of moving passages in this novel, Marion says that he became a surgeon because the character Matron goaded him, telling him that he should not settle for playing "Three Blind Mice" when he could pay Bach's "Gloria." He, who played no instrument and did not read music, responded that he could not dream of playing the "Gloria," to which Matron answered :"Yours! Your 'Gloria' lives within you.'" If Dr. Verghese were a concert musician, his "Gloria" would receive a standing ovation from a grateful audience whose eyes would be burning, or in the words of the writer himself "foggy."

There should be a law against fiction being this good.
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100 of 107 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cutting for Stone: Look deeper for its meanings, April 30, 2009
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RSD48 (Richmond, VA) - See all my reviews
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Abraham Verghese has layered his tale that spans continents, moving as it does from India to Africa and then to the US, full of double meanings - like flavor upon flavor. The overall story is rich, multifaceted. As a straight-up tale the book is a very good read. But for me, much of the delight of this novel was to catch the double entendres Verghese has laden into the story. Here are some examples:

*NAMES: The main characters, twin boys, born to a beautiful Indian nursing nun whom no one even suspected was pregnant, were technically conjoined, sharing a short stalk of flesh at the top of their heads, essentially one organism in the womb. They are identical - mirror images of each other on the surface - separated during their brutal cesarean birth. The surgeon, their presumed father, cannot even comprehend their existence. Dr. Thomas Stone is so horrified by his failure to save the beloved nun, his surgical assistant for several years, he runs from the operating theater at Mission Hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, abandoning the newborns.
With no guidance from the newly dead nun, nor from the abandoning surgeon/father, Hema, a fellow surgeon and eventually their adoptive mother, names the boys Marion and Shiva. Marion is said to be named after a famed groundbreaking surgeon Hema admires. However, it is a potent signal from Verghese about Marion's ultimate nature: he is more like his mother (Marion - Mary-like) in that he will grow to be compassionate, brave, willing to help in whatever way he can and yet very contained about his own sexuality. It will be much of his undoing. The name choice of Shiva for the other twin is said in the story to be a nod to Hema's own cultural heritage as she is also Indian. But again, there are more subtle meanings that Verghese is alluding to. In Hinduism, the god Shiva is complex, contradictory. He is Lord Shiva, the transformer, aloof, above sentimental considerations, and also the dancing destroyer. Yet destruction, in Hindu belief, also makes way for renewal. The child Shiva will reflect his father: a gifted intellect, skillful, yet incapable of grasping the emotional destruction his choices have on others, ultimately betraying his brother, transforming their relationship. Will there be an ultimate rebirth for them?

*PLACES: Even the hospital compound where the boys are born and where they spend their childhoods has a double meaning. The charity Mission Hospital compound is somewhat mispronounced, called "Missing" by the locals. The entire medical, religious and support staff form an extended surrogate family for the boys - each leaving their own formative mark on them. (One will precipitate a rift between the brothers that will take their lifetimes to heal.) Like any home, it is the center of the children's world. Yet all the while the boys, especially Marion, are acutely aware that there is something "missing" for them at Missing - they have no personal sense of either birth parent, not even a photograph. They only know their mother was dearly loved and their father was a difficult man as well as a fearless surgeon greatly treasured for his skill. But who are Sister Mary Joseph Praise and Dr. Thomas Stone? As they learn, so do we.

*IMAGES: At Missing Hospital Sister Mary Joseph Praise does her clerical work in a cramped space near the sterilization unit. We should ask ourselves what Verghese is trying to bring to our attention with this choice. Sterilizers use steam; the imagery is the contrast of being both pristine and literally steamy. Above her small desk hangs a photo of Bernini's sculpture of St. Theresa in the throes of religious ecstasy, orgasmic in its quality. Verghese knows that for centuries that sculpture has provoked discussion about its blatant sexual overtones, implying a similarity of being lifted out of oneself during utter surrender, whether to God or while giving oneself completely to another. He uses it as symbolic of the Sister's double and conflicting desire - thereby yet another double meaning - one for the service of God and the other for her one time intimacy with her god of medicine, the man who was able to miraculously restore life even in seemingly hopeless cases - Dr. Thomas Stone. However, to the orphaned four year-old Marion, seated at his dead mother's desk, gazing up at that photo, his child's mind fantasized Theresa was his mother. As readers we understand that image in ways that will take Marion decades to comprehend.

Both Stone boys choose surgery as careers, despite the legacy of their father (and hence the title), a specialty that is both brutal and awe inspiring. Dr. Verghese clearly loves his own medical craft as well as writing. There are multiple situations that arise throughout the book where he describes surgical procedures with spot-on accuracy. For some readers, perhaps too much accuracy. In several circumstances they become a vehicle to explain the progress of surgery through the hands of medical pioneers.

Verghese handles these cases like he handles his characters - with utter compassion, never shrinking away from the truth of their dysfunction or destructiveness, yet bringing us along for the glory of their triumph. Marion, Shiva, Sister Mary Joseph Praise, Dr. Thomas Stone, Drs. Hema and Gosh are all unforgettable. And because the book spans decades, the culture and history of Ethiopia have the space to saturate the story. Excellent!
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74 of 79 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Captivating, Colossal, February 20, 2009
You know how some novels just possess you? Grab you by the hair, the head, the heart, the teeth, the gonads? Well, this epic family saga is one of those. It takes a little while--you need to have a little patience as it introduces the numerous main and supporting characters, the place, and the twines of the story. At about page 80, ballast is apparent. You are fastened. Momentum increases and you are completely absorbed.

The narrator, Marion Stone, a 50 yr-old surgeon, recounts his life from inception and of his twin, Shiva, and the lives of the people that loved them; raised them; abandoned them; permeated them. They were born conjoined at the head (successfully separated), sons of a Carmelite nun (and nurse), Sister Mary Joseph Praise, and an extraordinarily talented surgeon father, Thomas Stone, who had worked together for seven years. The place is Abba Adaba, Ethiopia, at the fictional Mission Hospital (pronounced "Missing" by many Ethiopians), where much of the story takes place.

These characters will inhabit you as you inhabit them and this staggeringly beautiful and moving story. They shimmer. They resound. You will see them as you go about your day--the deep color of their irises, the creases and folds of skin, the texture of their hair, the resonance of their voices. And you will feel the spirit and nature of them as they surround you.

Missing (Mission) becomes a powerful symbol in the story--the lacunae of memory, of narration, of events. All will eventually come together stunningly. Additionally, the title of the novel gathers not moss but succor, essence, and context as the story deepens and disparate pieces of the past become a whole. By the time you get to the end of the novel, those three words become the poignant portal to the denouement and the thrust of its theme.

At turns playful, comic, adventurous, distressing, shocking, tragic, and tender, Cutting for Stone has an unbearably beautiful soul. Edifying, supple, exuberant, and enduring.
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63 of 67 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing epic, May 23, 2009
By 
JJH-V (Washington State) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Cutting for Stone (Kindle Edition)
It is a rare book that instructs without preaching, touches emotionally without being maudlin, and delves into the intricacies of the human condition with humor, compassion and deep wisdom. This novel does all of those magnificently. The setting is in a mission hospital in Ethiopia, the narrating character is one of twins born there under mysterious circumstances, and the plot revolves around the events and personal interactions among a cast of colorful and diverse people. The author has woven these together with amazing and admirable skill into a novel of both sweeping breadth and touching intimacy.

As a personal aside, I'd like to say this: after sixty-seven years as a voracious and eclectic reader I had thought the time was past when I'd read a book that would involve me intellectually and emotionally. I am grateful to have lived long enough to have read this book. Thank you, Abraham Verghese.

Note, 8/30/2011: Last week my daughter just asked for a good read, and I referred her to this book. She called yesterday to tell me how much she is enjoying it, and commented on the wisdom she finds woven into the story. I'm seventy now, and have read the book over several times. It is a true classic.
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80 of 87 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cutting to the quick, June 24, 2009
By 
Gerald Everett Jones (Santa Monica, CA USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
I have to start by clearing up the confusion I had with Abraham Verghese's title, "Cutting for Stone." As the book mentions several times but never precisely explains, the reference is to the Hippocratic Oath, "I will not cut for stone." However I had to look it up in Wikipedia to find the meaning, which is probably apparent to medical professionals. It was a prohibition from operating on stones, or calcified deposits, in the kidney or bladder. The ancient Greeks apparently thought surgeons should leave this menial procedure to barbers. The modern meaning seems to be that doctors should recognize they can't specialize in all areas. But I'd say closer to the original intent, and perhaps more relevant to today's medicine, would be: "I won't perform treatments just for the sake of making money."

Okay, I got that off my chest!

The title has at least a double meaning. The story flows from the unlikely and surprising conception of a pair of twins by an English surgeon, Thomas Stone, and an Indian-born nun, Sister Mary Praise, in Ethiopia in the mid-twentieth century. The story is narrated by one of the twins, Marion, who eventually becomes a surgeon himself.

Verghese is likewise a practicing surgeon, now living in the U.S., who grew up in Ethiopia. His account seems autobiographical, but much of it is invented, as he explains in detail in his Acknowledgments.

If I say too much about this book, I'll have to throw in a lot of spoilers, and suspense has its delicious rewards in this leisurely paced plot. So I won't. Suffice it to say, I believe your patience with Verghese will be rewarded.

I heard him speak at a book signing at an Ethiopian restaurant in Los Angeles, and he mentioned that he admired W. Somerset Maugham. This book does remind me of "Cakes and Ale," in more ways than one, including the crafting of its sentences. (Maugham also studied medicine.) It's not the page-turning, plain-vanilla, cliffhanger prose of Tom Clancy or Dan Brown. It's thoughtful, colorful, and literary. Slow down and enjoy it.

This novel is about family, community, betrayal, parental love and estrangement, sibling bonding and rivalry, personal bravery, not-so-uncommon acts of kindness, the heroic practice of medicine, suffering and compassion--and irony.

Lots of irony.

Cutting for Stone is selling well, so lots of other people must think it's worthwhile. The story doesn't read like a movie plot, but neither does The English Patient. Yes, this book is that big--in its scope and its ambitions, and in the magnitude of its achievement.
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85 of 93 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great writing, review influenced by one scene, May 10, 2010
By 
Ericka J. (New York, NY) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Cutting for Stone (Paperback)
*MAJOR SPOILER ALERT*
I have to say I agree with most of the positive reviews here that overall this was a beautifully written, well-researched book. I was hooked from the start and loved the historical and medical aspects of the story.

I have a hard time writing anything negative about a piece of work someone has obviously poured their heart and soul into, especially because a reader's experience is so subjective but I have to say that I took issue with a disturbing scene towards the end of the book where the main character reunites with his childhood/teenage love interest. He felt betrayed by her and some would say rightfully so but her character committed these betrayals when she was young, naive, and lacking in common sense. She also suffered at the hands of a brutal cultural ritual that left her irreparably scarred. When they encounter each other again the main character still holds resentment towards her for her past actions and enacts revenge by violating her. He does this not only as she repeatedly pleads with him to stop but he also does this forcefully, knowing full well that she is physically scarred and that his actions will make her experience worse. He gets very ill after this act and I am not sure if this is the author's way of punishing the him for his actions but it still left me wondering why I should care about him at all after that.

Was I supposed to feel he was justified in this act because of her careless acts in the past? I read on but lost my initial passion for the book.

Maybe someone who read this can offer another take on this because for me it is very hard not to be extremely disturbed by this event and not have it effect the how I viewed the book as a whole.
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Cutting for Stone
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (Paperback - January 26, 2010)
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