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Cutting for Stone Paperback – January 26, 2010
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Amazon Exclusive: John Irving Reviews Cutting for Stone
John Irving has been nominated for a National Book Award three times--winning once, in 1980, for the novel The World According to Garp. In 1992, Irving was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, Oklahoma. In 2000, he won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Cider House Rules--a film with seven Academy Award nominations. Read his exclusive Amazon guest review of Cutting for Stone:
That Abraham Verghese is a doctor and a writer is already established; the miracle of this novel is how organically the two are entwined. I’ve not read a novel wherein medicine, the practice of it, is made as germane to the storytelling process, to the overall narrative, as the author manages to make it happen here. The medical detail is stunning, but it never overwhelms the humane and narrative aspects of this moving and ambitious novel. This is a first-person narration where the first-person voice appears to disappear, but never entirely; only in the beginning are we aware that the voice addressing us is speaking from the womb! And what terrific characters--even the most minor players are given a full history. There is also a sense of great foreboding; by the midpoint of the story, one dreads what will further befall these characters. The foreshadowing is present in the chapter titles, too--‘The School of Suffering’ not least among them! Cutting for Stone is a remarkable achievement.--John Irving
(Photo © Maki Galimberti)
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Lauded for his sensitive memoir (My Own Country) about his time as a doctor in eastern Tennessee at the onset of the AIDS epidemic in the 80s, Verghese turns his formidable talents to fiction, mining his own life and experiences in a magnificent, sweeping novel that moves from India to Ethiopia to an inner-city hospital in New York City over decades and generations. Sister Mary Joseph Praise, a devout young nun, leaves the south Indian state of Kerala in 1947 for a missionary post in Yemen. During the arduous sea voyage, she saves the life of an English doctor bound for Ethiopia, Thomas Stone, who becomes a key player in her destiny when they meet up again at Missing Hospital in Addis Ababa. Seven years later, Sister Praise dies birthing twin boys: Shiva and Marion, the latter narrating his own and his brothers long, dramatic, biblical story set against the backdrop of political turmoil in Ethiopia, the life of the hospital compound in which they grow up and the love story of their adopted parents, both doctors at Missing. The boys become doctors as well and Vergheses weaving of the practice of medicine into the narrative is fascinating even as the story bobs and weaves with the power and coincidences of the best 19th-century novel. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
The above quote is one of the important takeaways from this magnificent novel. It is a reference to an old Arabic folk legend concerning a rich merchant in Baghdad, who could not rid himself of his old slippers – they kept coming back to haunt him. The slippers are a metaphor for our life experiences. The quote is rendered by Dr. Ghosh, one of the main characters in the novel, based on his experiences in Kerchele prison, in Addis Abba. This novel of Abraham Verghese, as well as Dr. Ghosh name, recalled to mind Amitav Ghosh’s novel In an Antique Land: History in the Guise of a Traveler's Tale which I read some two decades ago. Both novels concern the connections between the Indian subcontinent, the Arabian Peninsula, and Africa. Ghosh’s novel is a reconstruction of this area in the 12th century; Verghese’s novel commences with the end of the British Raj in India, and the impact of the diaspora resulting from Indian independence upon medical care in Ethiopia, the only African country not fully colonized (though the Portuguese, and much later the Italians, made attempts). It is a country Verghese knows well, since he was born and raised there. After medical training, he would come to the United States in 1980.
Verghese is a master story teller. He maintains high dramatic tension throughout, with sufficient twists and turns to the plot. There is a beautiful balance between action and introspection. He knows the human heart, both the metaphorical one of emotions, as well as the physical one. The core relationship is between a British physician, Dr. Thomas Stone, leaving Madras at the commencement of Indian independence, and an Indian nun who also leaves for missionary work in Africa, Sister Mary Joseph Praise. They both work at the “Missing Hospital” in Addis Abba (whose real name is the “Mission” hospital, but that is difficult for Ethiopians to pronounce … and Verghese says that real Ethiopians pronounce their country’s name with two syllables, as opposed to the five non-Ethiopians use.) Stone and Praise’s union creates twins, Shiva and Marion, and it is the latter who narrates the story.
The novel covers a fair amount of medicine, at a level that the non-physician should find understandable, and even fascinating. One of the topics relates to the awful impact of early marriages and childbirth on women (girls), which creates fistulas and urinary incontinence. It becomes Shiva’s life objective to address and resolve this problem. Another topical one today concerns FGM (female genital mutilation… that is the removal of the clitoris), and I thought Verghese was brilliant in demonstrating the unintended consequences which can impact us all. Furthermore, Verghese is a physician of the best kind: a knowledgeable humanist, who stresses the need to know the one treatment each physician should administer to the patient’s ear.
The natural world of Addis Abba comes through, as does the grinding poverty of the people, and the make-do charity-style medical practices at the “missing” hospital, which is supported by Southern Baptists in Houston. The curse of the country is to be ruled by brutal thugs, like Haile Selassie. Verghese relates the impact of one failed coup against him (it is how Ghosh wound up in prison). Another coup is successful but Selassie is simply replaced by another brutal thug, Mengistu, in 1974. Independence movements in Eritrea and Tigray are also featured.
The author’s character, Marion, leaves Ethiopia – actually flees – ahead of the police, and makes it to the Bronx, to practice medicine in a poor hospital which services the ghetto. Verghese makes a similar migration, though not ahead of the police. Thus he presents a low-key, but nonetheless scathing indictment of the two-tier medical health care system maintained in the United States, whereby Indian doctors are used to provide medical care at “Ellis Island hospitals,” whereas native American doctors work at “first world Mayflower hospitals.” The link between them? The “Mayflower hospitals” paid for the helicopter pad to sit on top of the “Ellis Island” hospital, so that the readily available body parts, often due to ghetto violence, can be quickly transferred for transplantation surgery.
Ethiopia is an intensely remembered 5-day “slipper” of my life. 1984, an apt year. The fear of life under Mengistu was so palatable. Famine, and the ports were blocked so donated food from Europe cannot be off-loaded, yet Air Ethiopia is delivering Volvos by air-freight. Our 5-day tour was cut-short by a day, since the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front seized the town that was our next destination: Lalibela. Ah, but the taste of injera at the New African hotel provided some recommence.
In the commencement of the novel, Verghese wittily morphs the M&M conference into a retrospectoscope conference on life: “you live it forward, but understand it backward…” Indeed. This is a superlative 6-star read, so much so that I will break a personal rule of not immediately reading a second work of an author, and will read his My Own Country: A Doctor's Story within the month.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Lots of anatomy.I felt I was back in medical school again!?Read more