Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Book Review: Cutting for Stone

What are you Reading?  
Cutting for Stone
by Abraham Verghase 
[ISBN : 9780375714368]

Review by Michele Matucheski, 
Ascension Mercy Hospital / Ascension Wisconsin

I stumbled on this book a few years ago, and it quickly became one of my all-time favorite reads—ever.  It’s written by a physician, so we get an insider’s view of the clinical side of the medicine—which was particularly interesting for a Medical Librarian.  There are several fascinating expositions on various clinical topics, surgeries, and treatments.  Not only is Verghase a physician, but a wonderful writer storyteller, too.  He was born in Ethiopia and was himself displaced by political upheaval there.  He had to leave his homeland, not unlike the characters in the novel. 

Cutting for Stone is an EPIC story that spans multiple continents (India, Africa, North America) as well as generations.  It begins in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, at “Missing” Hospital – the charity hospital run on a shoestring by The Carmelite Sisters.  On a prayer and a wing, they made it work, and managed to marshal the supplies and staff to keep it going …   And we meet some of the magnificent and flawed people who work there.  Dr Stone, the brash surgeon, develops a working relationship with one of the nuns, Sr. Mary Joseph Praise.  Their secret union begets twins, Marion and Shiva.  But Sr. Mary Joseph dies in childbirth, and the surgeon disappears, unable to bear the grief or responsibility of raising the boys.  Two other local physicians – Hema and Ghosh, transplants from India – raise the boys who both go into medicine themselves. 

Some of the main themes:
              How geography shapes destiny
            Love, Betrayal and Loss
            Being an outsider / Otherness
            Immigrant Story / Migration
            The Haves and the Have-nots
I was struck at how working in a “third world” country aptly prepared Marion for work in an inner-city hospital in the US, where gang violence offered a steady stream of organ donors for wealthier clients in other cities – one of which his father, the brilliant Dr. Stone, worked as a transplant surgeon.   
It all comes together in the end as just the right people converge to do what only they could have done to move the story forward.    I fell in love with so many of the characters …  I wished Hema and Ghosh had been my own parents—or maybe that I could be the kind of parents they were-- always doing the right things for the ones they loved, patient, kind, loving ...    And the Ethiopian food …   Just writing about it now, makes me long to see these characters all over again.  I think I may have to re-read the book!

It was the kind of book that was so chock full of themes, happenings, and events, that I wished I had been in a book club so I could discuss it with other people.  There was so much there …  I was sad to finish it, and wanted to keep the characters around a while longer. 

A few choice quotes:
“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.”
“Tell us please, what treatment in an emergency is administered by ear?".... I met his gaze and I did not blink. "Words of comfort," I said to my father.” 
“According to Shiva, life is in the end about fixing holes. Shiva didn't speak in metaphors. Fixing holes is precisely what he did. Still, it's an apt metaphor for our profession. But there's another kind of hole, and that is the wound that divides family. Sometimes this wound occurs at the moment of birth, sometimes it happens later. We are all fixing what is broken. It is the task of a lifetime. We'll leave much unfinished for the next generation.” 
“That's the funny thing about America--the blessed thing. As many people as there are to hold you back, there are angels whose humanity makes up for all the others. I've had my share of angels.” 

If it seems too long to read, consider listening to the audio book.  The accents add to the story. 

If you want to know more, read on …
Cutting for Stone (Good Reads)
Cutting for Stone (Amazon)   

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