Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

It's been a couple weeks and a fabulous vacation since I finished this book, so I've kind of struggled to focus my thoughts into a review. 

I liked Cutting for Stone, I got into the characters and their lives, and couldn't put it down.  But it is long, it is sad and it includes a lot of details that can be hard to read.  The book centers around doctors working in a charity hospital in Ethiopia.  There are a lot of surgical procedures, medical conditions and social interactions described in great detail.  To me it didn't seem too graphic, it seemed more National Geographic, but I didn't take the time to really visualize the gory details.  If you are looking to commit to a good, long story, I think you should try this book.

Now that I've got my warnings out of the way, it's important to say that the real story is more about family, loyalty and decisions the characters make.  Marion and Shiva are twins whose mother dies during their birth.  They are then raised by another man and woman at the hospital.  This all unfolds so sweetly, that I hate too summarize to much.  I really like the way Verghese writes and introduces his characters.  He also has a cool way of dropping hints, not quite foreshadowing, that I loved.

"But now, when her newborns, her Shiva and Marion, cried, it was like no other earthly sound.  It summoned her from sleep's catacombs and brought shushing noises to her throat as she rushed to the incubator.  It was a personal call--her babies wanted her! 
She remembered a phenomenon she'd experienced for years when she was about to fall asleep: a sense that someone was calling her name.  Now she told herself it had been her unborn twins telling her they were coming."

Isn't that pretty?  I think maybe Verghese could be edited down a bit.  But I feel that way about a lot of LONG novels.  He gives a lot of background to each of his characters, and some people might find it tedious. 

There's a part where Ghosh is teaching Marion about what to listen for when checking a patient's pulse.  As Marion begins to understand he reflects, "How exciting to be able to touch a human being with one's fingertips and know all these things about them.  I said as much to Ghosh, and from his expression you would think I'd said something profound."  The philosophies that each of the doctors adopt and explain through out the book are fascinating to me.

I really liked Marion, he chose to be a moral person when he was young.  Then there were moments when others assume he has done something his brother did, and he doesn't set them straight.  I wanted to scream at him to clear his name and explain what was really going on.  But of course he doesn't.  That drove me crazy, but also drove the plot for good and bad.  I felt like the main characters were really noble, and I thought about them when I wasn't reading.

In the prologue, it says "Life, too, is like that.  You live it forward, but understand it backward."  I liked thinking about that too.

Here's another part I liked, "When Ghosh emerged from the house, running as fast as he could, and when he grabbed me, fear and concern in his eyes, the last of my illusions vanished.  The adults weren't in charge."  I can remember that feeling when you are young and you realize that your parents can't control everything.

On a lighter note, he describes his parents bridge nights.  "A burst of conversation like a collective sigh signaled the end of a round. I loved to observe them play."   I remember hearing the exact same thing during my parents' Nertz parties!

And I LOVED this,  "I spent as much time as I could with Ghosh.  I wanted every bit of wisdom he could import to me.  All sons should write down every word of what their fathers have to say to them.  I tried.  Why did it take an illness for me to recognized the value of time with him?  It seems we humans never learn.  And so we relearn the lessons every generation and then want to write epistles."

And this, "He sat self-consciously on the edge of the bed.  He touched my hand.  His lips parted.
'Wait,' I said.  'Don't say anything yet.'  I looked out of the window at the clouds, at distant smokestacks.  The world was intact now, but I knew once he spoke it wouldn't be so.'"  This reminds me of a quote from Spanglish.  Something like, "can you repeat that because I couldn't hear anything after the crack in the planet."  Both referring to horrible life-changing moments when you know having heard something, nothing will ever be the same.  But I think it's beautifully written here.

I liked Verghese's writing style.  I can't read book after book that is this detailed and involved, but every now and then I like a really meaty novel.  I thought there were some really good character traits illustrated, and I loved the way that the doctors at the hospital functioned as a family.  Even when the events were heartbreaking, I loved reading how they handled them.  I also felt there were really profound statements thought and spoken through the characters. 

This is definitely a thought-provoking discussion-worthy book.  Tell me what you thought about it!

3 comments: said...

long AND sad, I think I'll skip it. Although the quotes are beautiful.

Betsy said...

I really liked this book, but agree that it was a bit exhausting, so it's hard to recommend. It's been a while since I read it, and when I think of it now, I get those wretched visual images of Shiva's surgeries. Ick. So I was glad to read your great review to remind me about some of the other more beautiful details.

I agree that this was one where I came to *love* the characters and thought about them when I wasn't reading. I really got pulled in and even though it was long, I read it quickly because I couldn't put it down.

I wish I had this book more fresh on my brain so that I had more insight. I agree that it's a very good book and would be a good one for a discussion. I felt satisfied and happy that I'd read it when I turned the last page.

salty c-snake said...

i need to finish the four books i have my hand in. so many books on here to read!! and a handy list so i can find them when i need them;)