Cutting for Stone: A novel

By Abraham Verghese
Binding:Hardcover
Publisher:Knopf, (2/3/2009)
Language:English



Average Rating:
Very Unleashable
4.50 out of 5 (2 Clubie's ratings)


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A sweeping, emotionally riveting first novel—an enthralling family saga of Africa and America, doctors and patients, exile and home.

Marion and Shiva Stone are twin brothers born of a secret union between a beautiful Indian nun and a brash British surgeon at a mission hospital in Addis Ababa. Orphaned by their mother’s death in childbirth and their father’s disappearance, bound together by a preternatural connection and a shared fascination with medicine, the twins come of age as Ethiopia hovers on the brink of revolution. Yet it will be love, not politics—their passion for the same woman—that will tear them apart and force Marion, fresh out of medical school, to flee his homeland. He makes his way to America, finding refuge in his work as an intern at an underfunded, overcrowded New York City hospital. When the past catches up to him—nearly destroying him—Marion must entrust his life to the two men he thought he trusted least in the world: the surgeon father who abandoned him and the brother who betrayed him.

An unforgettable journey into one man’s remarkable life, and an epic story about the power, intimacy, and curious beauty of the work of healing others.

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Silver's Reviews's thoughts on "Cutting for Stone: A novel"
updated on:4/23/2011

The story of Shiva and Marion Stone will stay with you long after you turn the last page.  It is an unforgettable tale of Siamese twins and their accomplishments, trials, heartbreaks, triumphs, and undeniable bond.  Their Ethiopian family's ties and closeness make up the main theme as we also get a glimpse into medical terminology and procedures.  It is an immersion into a way of life wrought by strife, war, dedicated doctors, and suffering citizens.

Cutting for Stone is a remarkable book with unforgettable characters.  Once you have read the book, you will realize how amazing our health care system is in the United States .  You will also realize that there are committed, talented doctors all around the world that do the best they can with what they have in terms of equipment and supplies.

Don't give up because of the lengthy, detailed explanations and slow-moving beginning.  As you become attached to the characters, the story unfolds and becomes one you will be glad you didn't put aside.  The book is incredible.  4/5 only because of the lengthy beginning.

Very Unleashable



kfdet's thoughts on "Cutting for Stone: A novel"
updated on:7/4/2010



DEFINITELY Unleash it


"Cutting for Stone: A novel"
By Abraham Verghese

Average Rating:
Very Unleashable
4.50 out of 5 (2 Clubie's ratings)


The Gentleman
The Gentleman
By Forrest Leo

 
 
 General reading guide discussion questions to be used with ANY book your book club or reading group might be discussing.
 
 

1. Abraham Verghese has said that his ambition in writing Cutting for Stone was to “tell a great story, an old-fashioned, truth-telling story.” In what ways is Cutting for Stone an old-fashioned story-and what does it share with the great novels of the nineteenth century? What essential human truths does it convey?

2. What does Cutting for Stone reveal about the emotional lives of doctors? Contrast the attitudes of Hema, Ghosh, Marion, Shiva, and Thomas Stone toward their work. What draws each of them to the practice of medicine? How are they affected, emotionally and otherwise, by the work they do?

3. Marion observes that in Ethiopia, patients assume that all illnesses are fatal and that death is expected, but in America, news of having a fatal illness “always seemed to come as a surprise, as if we took it for granted that we were immortal” (p. 396). What other important differences does Cutting for Stone reveal about the way illness is viewed and treated in Ethiopia and in the United States? To what extent are these differences reflected in the split between poor hospitals, like the one in the Bronx where Marion works, and rich hospitals like the one in Boston where his father works?

4. In the novel, Thomas Stone asks, “What treatment in an emergency is administered by ear?” The correct answer is “Words of comfort.” How does this moment encapsulate the book's surprising take on medicine? Have your experiences with doctors and hospitals held this to be true? Why or why not? What does Cutting for Stone tell us about the roles of compassion, faith, and hope in medicine?

5. There are a number of dramatic scenes on operating tables in Cutting for Stone: the twins' births, Thomas Stone amputating his own finger, Ghosh untwisting Colonel Mebratu's volvulus, the liver transplant, etc. How does Verghese use medical detail to create tension and surprise? What do his depictions of dramatic surgeries share with film and television hospital dramas-and yet how are they different?

6. Marion suffers a series of painful betrayals-by his father, by Shiva, and by Genet. To what degree is he able, by the end of the novel, to forgive them?

7. To what extent does the story of Thomas Stone's childhood soften Marion's judgment of him? How does Thomas's suffering as a child, the illness of his parents, and his own illness help to explain why he abandons Shiva and Marion at their birth? How should Thomas finally be judged?

8. In what important ways does Marion come to resemble his father, although he grows up without him? How does Marion grow and change over the course of the novel?

9. A passionate, unique love affair sets Cutting for Stone in motion, and yet this romance remains a mystery-even to the key players-until the very conclusion of the novel. How does the relationship between Sister Mary Joseph Praise and Thomas Stone affect the lives of Shiva and Marion, Hema and Ghosh, Matron and everyone else at Missing? What do you think Verghese is trying to say about the nature of love and loss?

10. What do Hema, Matron, Rosina, Sister Mary Joseph Praise, Genet, and Tsige-as well as the many women who come to Missing seeking medical treatment-reveal about what life is like for women in Ethiopia?

11. Addis Ababa is at once a cosmopolitan city thrumming with life and the center of a dictatorship rife with conflict. How do the influences of Ethiopia's various rulers-England, Italy, Emperor Selassie-reveal themselves in day-to-day life? How does growing up there affect Marion's and Shiva's worldviews?

12. As Ghosh nears death, Marion comments that the man who raised him had no worries or regrets, that “there was no restitution he needed to make, no moment he failed to seize” (p. 346). What is the key to Ghosh's contentment? What makes him such a good father, doctor, and teacher? What wisdom does he impart to Marion?

13. Although it's also a play on the surname of the characters, the title Cutting for Stonecomes from a line in the Hippocratic Oath: “I will not cut for stone, even for patients in whom the disease is manifest; I will leave this operation to be performed by practitioners, specialists in this art.” Verghese has said that this line comes from ancient times, when bladder stones were epidemic and painful: “There were itinerant stone cutters-lithologists-who could cut into either the bladder or the perineum and get the stone out, but because they cleaned the knife by wiping their blood-stiffened surgical aprons, patients usually died of infection the next day.” How does this line resonate for the doctors in the novel?

14. Almost all of the characters in Cutting for Stone are living in some sort of exile, self-imposed or forced, from their home country-Hema and Ghosh from India, Marion from Ethiopia, Thomas from India and then Ethiopia. Verghese is of Indian descent but was born and raised in Ethiopia, went to medical school in India, and has lived and worked in the United States for many years. What do you think this novel says about exile and the immigrant experience? How does exile change these characters, and what do they find themselves missing the most about home?


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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. 

From The Washington Post
From The Washington Post's Book World/washingtonpost.com Reviewed by W. Ralph Eubanks "Why St. Teresa, mother?" the narrator of Abraham Verghese's masterful first novel asks longingly. Marion Praise Stone wants to understand his long-dead mother and her devotion to the 16th-century mystic. But the circumstances surrounding his birth complicate that quest: Marion and his identical twin brother, Shiva, were born from a secret union between a beautiful Indian nun, Sister Mary Joseph Praise, and a British surgeon, Thomas Stone, in Addis Ababa in 1954. Now 50 years old, and a doctor like the father who abandoned him, Marion sets out to piece together his personal history, both as a spiritual exercise and as an act of reconciliation. Marion's question, "Why Saint Teresa?," is prompted by one of the few remnants of his late mother's life: a print of Bernini's sculpture of Teresa of Avila, depicting her enraptured by the love of God. He senses that his mother's beauty must have been like that of Saint Teresa, a woman known to be so attractive to men that her confessor not only fell in love with her but also wound up confessing his own sins to her. Verghese's gripping narrative moves over decades and generations from India to Ethiopia to an inner-city hospital in New York, describing the cultural and spiritual pull of these places. Sister Mary Joseph Praise and Dr. Thomas Stone meet during the young nun's voyage from India to a missionary post in Yemen. Sister Mary Joseph saves Stone's life on the tempestuous passage, one filled with typhoid and other dangers. Impressed by her skills as a nurse, Stone asks the nun to join him in Addis Ababa at a mission hospital known to natives as "Missing Hospital." She declines his invitation, noting her commitment to her order in Yemen. Later while serving in Aden, a Yemeni city that is "at once dead and yet in continuous motion," Sister Mary Joseph confronts an evil man and an act of violence that she never discusses or reveals to anyone. Yet what happened leaves its mark on her like stigmata. She flees from Yemen and finds her way to Addis Ababa and Missing Hospital. When she recovers, she and Stone become an inseparable team in the operating room. After seven years of working together and more, Stone learns of Sister Mary Joseph's pregnancy when he is called to the hospital and finds her in a distressed labor. When she dies giving birth to their twins, he disappears. Cutting for Stone then moves to the story of Marion and Shiva, as well as their adoptive parents, Stone's fellow physicians, and the world of Missing Hospital. Until their teens, the twins share a bed, sleeping with their heads touching each other just as they did in their mother's womb. Yet as young men, an act of sexual betrayal -- they share a passion for the same woman -- spirals out of control and separates them for many years. Both men become doctors, and eventually the division leads Marion to an internship at a New York hospital. But then an illness leaves Marion's life in the hands of the brother who betrayed him as well as the father who abandoned him. Even with its many stories and layers, Cutting for Stone remains clear and concise. Verghese paints a vivid picture of these settings, the practice of medicine (he is also a physician) and the characters' inner conflicts. I felt as though I were with these people, eating dinner with them even, feeling the hot spongy injera on my fingers as they dipped it into a spicy wot. In The Interior Castle, Saint Teresa's work on mystical theology, she wrote, "I began to think of the soul as if it were a castle made of a single diamond or of very clear crystal, in which there are many rooms, just as in Heaven there are many mansions." Cutting for Stone shines like that place. 
Copyright 2009, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved. 

Review
“An epic tale about love, abandonment, betrayal and redemption, Verghese’s first novel is a masterpiece of traditional storytelling. Not a word is wasted in this larger-than-life saga that spans three countries and six decades. . . . So adept at keeping his readers engaged, Verghese (a doctor himself, as well as a professor at Stanford) is able to relate technically detailed accounts of medical procedures without ever slowing the pace of the narrative. Detail, in fact, is Verghese’s forte. Every character has a history–and Verghese expertly weaves the threads of numerous story lines into one cohesive opus. The writing is graceful, the characters compassionate and the story full of nuggets of wisdom. Verghese’s august talent for storytelling is apparent in the dramatic arc of every chapter, but it is his handling of the human condition, of sins and salvation, of flaws and forgiveness, that makes this work particularly moving. From [Marion and Shiva Stone’s] dramatic upbringing in a politically unstable nation to their heartbreaks and humiliations, Verghese’s prose is teeming with memorable dialogue and description. Marion’s arrival in New York City captures the wonderment of an immigrant . . . Although Verghese’s nonfiction works exemplify the sensitivity and awareness evident in Cutting for Stone,neither achieves the depth or breadth of this fictional tour de force. With all the traits of a great 19th century novel–a personal and intense narrative with coincidences and an unexpected denouement–Cutting for Stone is destined for success.”

–Meghan Ward, San Francisco Chronicle

“Masterful . . . Verghese’s gripping narrative moves over decades and generations from India to Ethiopia to an inner-city hospital in New York, describing the cultural and spiritual pull of these places. . . . Even with its many stories and layers, Cutting for Stone<... --This text refers to the Kindle Edition edition. 

Review
“Abraham Verghese is a doctor, an accomplished memoirist and, as he proves in Cutting for Stone, something of a magician as a novelist. This sprawling, 50-year epic begins with a touch of alchemy: the birth of conjoined twins to an Indian nun in an Ethiopian hospital in 1954. The likely father, a British surgeon, flees upon the mother’s death, and the (now separated) baby boys are adopted by a loving Indian couple who run the hospital. Filled with mystical scenes and deeply felt characters–and opening a fascinating window onto the Third World–Cutting for Stone is an underdog and a winner. Shades of Slumdog Millionaire.

–Jocelyn McClurg, USA Today

“A novel set in Africa bears a heavy burden. The author must bring the continent home to help the reader sit in a chair and imagine vast, ancient, sorrowful, beautiful Africa. In the last decade I’ve read books narrated by characters homesick for Africa; books by or about child soldiers; books about politics; books full of splintering history. Cutting for Stone is the first straightforward novel set in and largely about Africa that I’ve read in a good long time–the kind Richard Russo or Cormac McCarthy might write, the kind that shows how history and landscape and accidents of birth and death conspire to create the story of a single life. Perhaps it is because the narrator is a doctor that you know there will be pain, healing, distance, perspective and a phoenix rising from the ashes of human error. Marion Stone reconstructs his half-century with a child’s wonder . . . Verghese knows that beauty is the best way to draw us in . . . The landscape and the characters who live and work [at Missing Hospital] create something greater than a community, more like an organism. The intimacy of the twins . . . the ghostly purity of their mother and the daily rhythms of the hospital create an inhabitable, safe place, on and off the page. In lesser hands, melodrama would be irresistible . . . but Verghese has created characters with integrity that will not be shattered by any event. . . . Verghese makes the point in his gentle way that violence begets violence; that fanaticism is born from pain. . . . Cutting for Stone owes its goodness to something greater than plot. It would not be possible to give away the story by simply telling you what happens. Verghese creates this story so lovingly that it is actually possible to live within it for the brief time one spends with this book. You may never leave the chair. . . Lush and exotic . . . richly written.”

–Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times 

“Any doubts you might harbor about a 534-page first novel by a physician in his 50s will be allayed in the first few pages of this marvelous book. Abraham Verghese has written two graceful memoirs, but Cutting for Stone, his wildly imaginative fictional debut, is looser, bigger, even better. The narrative begins as a nun of staff at a charity hospital in Ethiopia dies giving birth to twin boys. No one on staff had known she was pregnant, least of all her surgeon lover, who promptly decamps. Just when you think you’re holding a grim epic of abandonment, Verghese changes keys, launching a buoyant tale of family happiness. [The] newborns are adopted by Hema, the hospital’s gynecologist, and her physician husband Ghosh. Introduced as a cheerful buffoon, Ghosh emerges as Verghese’s most achingly soulful creation, man as wise as he is tender. Verghese has the rare gift of showing his characters in different lights as the story evolves, from tragedy to comedy to melodrama, with an ending that is part Dickens, part Grey’s Anatomy. The novel works as a family saga, but it is also something more, a lovely ode to the medical profession. Verghese can write about the repair of a twisted bowel with the precision and poetry usually reserved for love scenes. The doctor in him sees the luminous beauty of the physician’s calling; the artist recognizes that there remain wounds no surgeon can men. ‘Where silk and steel fail, story must succeed,’ Marion muses. This one does.”

–Jennifer Reese, Entertainment Weekly; Grade: A

“An epic tale about love, abandonment, betrayal and redemption, Verghese’s first novel is a masterpiece of traditional storytelling. Not a word is wasted in this larger-than-life saga that spans three countries and six decades. . . . So adept at keeping his readers engaged, Verghese (a doctor himself, as well as a professor at Stanford) is able to relate technically detailed accounts of medical procedures without ever slowing the pace of the narrative. Detail, in fact, is Verghese’s forte. Every character has a history–and Verghese expertly weaves the threads of numerous story lines into one cohesive opus. The writing is graceful, the characters compassionate and the story full of nuggets of wisdom. Verghese’s august talent for storytelling is apparent in the dramatic arc of every chapter, but it is his handling of the human condition, of sins and salvation, of flaws and forgiveness, that makes this work particularly moving. From [Marion and Shiva Stone’s] dramatic upbringing in a politically unstable nation to their heartbreaks and humiliations, Verghese’s prose is teeming with memorable dialogue and description. Marion’s arrival in New York City captures the wonderment of an immigrant . . . Although Verghese’s nonfiction works exemplify the sensitivity and awareness evident in Cutting for Stone,neither achieves the depth or breadth of this fictional tour de force. With all the traits of a great 19th century novel–a personal and intense narrative with coincidences and an unexpected denouement–Cutting for Stone is destined for success.”

–Meghan Ward, San Francisco Chronicle

“Blood is thicker than water, and more copious, in this expansive novel about identical twin boys born in Addis Ababa in 1954 and instantly orphaned–their mother dies, their father flees. Raised by doctors at the hospital, Shiva and Marion soon begin practicing medicine themselves, but their lives unhappily diverge. The twins have a telepathic connection, and Marion, the narrator, believes he can recall their relationship in the womb. Verghese, a doctor, has an affinity for unstinting detail and unscientific intuition. The exhaustive gore of the medical procedures is matched by a poetic perception of the outside world–arriving in New York, Marion misses the cacophony of Addis Ababa’s roads, observing that in America ‘the cars were near silent, like a school of fish.’ Verghese bends history and coincidence to his narrative needs–characters cross paths when they should and find the information they seek–creating a story much like the human bodies Marion painstakingly describes: beautiful [and] amazing.”

The New Yorker

“Masterful . . . Verghese’s gripping narrative moves over decades and generations from India to Ethiopia to an inner-city hospital in New York, describing the cultural and spiritual pull of these places. . . . Even with its many stories and layers, Cutting for Stone remains clear and concise. Verghese paints a vivid picture of these settings, the practice of medicine (he is also a physician) and the characters’ inner conflicts. I felt as though I were with these people, eating dinner with them even, feeling the hot spongy injera on my fingers as they dipped it into a spicy wot. In The Interior Castle, Saint Teresa’s work on mystical theology, she wrote, ‘I began to think of the soul as if it were a castle made of a single diamond or of very clear crystal, in which there are many rooms, just as in Heaven there are many mansions.’ Cutting for Stone shines like that place.”

–W. Ralph Eubanks, The Washington Post Book World

“Three and a half stars. Conjoined twins, Shiva and Marion Stone are separated by the doctor whose Caesarean fails to save their mother. Raised near the Ethiopian hospital where they were born, the brothers lock into a struggle that mirrors the country’s political tension: Their family is touched by murder, a coup, betrayal. Verghese plays straight to the heart in his first novel, which will keep you in its thrall.”

–Michelle Green, People

“Absorbing, exhilarating . . . Rich . . . Worthy of ‘Once-upon-a-time’ status. . . . If you’re hungry for an epic that begins in 1940s Madras, sails through a typhoid outbreak, stumbles through a sordid khat den in Yemen, lingers in a plucky mission clinic in Addis Ababa and climaxes in a gritty New York City hospital before alighting, for a mystical moment, in a small Italian chapel graced by Bernini’s sculpture of St. Teresa, then open the covers of Cutting for Stone, [then] don’t expect to do much else. . . . [Verghese] skillfully captures the tensions and insights triggered by cultural crosscurrents. [He] details with equal adroitness the thrashing of 10,000 Italian soldiers by barefoot Ethiopian fighters in 1896; the patois of frankincense-scented brothels; a vasectomy performed with the aid of space heater and Johnnie Walker Red–the description of the latter so charming and surgically precise, it could serve, in a pinch, as how-to manual. Verghese’s love of medicine is palpable. He’s equally passionate about narrative. . . . He sprinkles medical nuggets throughout his novel to reveal the raw complexity of life . . . His intimate depiction of humanity makes your pulse race, your eyes tear, and your lungs exhale a satisfied sigh.”

–Paula Bock, The Seattle Times

“Compelling . . . A story [that] refuses to let go of the readers. . . . Cutting for Stone [is] a coming-of-age novel. But it’s a... 


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Abraham Verghese is Professor and Senior Associate Chair for the Theory and Practice of Medicine at the Stanford University School of Medicine. He was the founding director of the Center for Medical Humanities & Ethics at the University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio, where he is now an adjunct professor. He is the author of My Own Country, a 1994 NBCC Finalist and a Time Best Book of the Year, and The Tennis Partner, a New York Times Notable Book. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he has published essays and short stories that have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Atlantic Monthly, Esquire, Granta, The Wall Street Journal, and elsewhere. He lives in Palo Alto, California.


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