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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

CUTTING FOR STONE – Abraham Verghese

A bit of historic fiction within a medical novel. Even though this was a bit daunting to begin, being 600 pages, I have to say I absolutely could not put it down. However, I must confess that some of the medical jargon and procedures were over my head and I did do a bit of skimming of some content. I could see a young person pursuing a medical career enjoying this book very much. I made sure that the author documented his history and medical information (he is a doctor) as well and then sat back to enjoy the ride. The book covers several generations and five decades of medical practitioners beginning in Ethiopia and ending in an inner-city hospital in New York. I felt like this was almost three books and each section almost could stand alone. The construction of the novel and style of writing is excellent.

In 1947 upon getting her nursing degree in India, Sister Mary Joseph Praise boards a ship for Yemen. She ends up nursing a gravely ill doctor, Thomas Stone, back to life on her shipboard travels and they end up in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Many chapters follow the Sister and Dr. Stone working together with mutual admiration and are full of much falling apart and patching up of souls and bodies in the clinic which ministers to the poor of the city. All the stories are gut-wrenching and exciting intertwined with political tension, suspense, and action. A huge shift in the story happens when Sister Mary unexpectedly gives birth to conjoined twin sons, Shiva and Marion. Sister Mary dies, Stone flees, the twins are separated, and on we go to the next whole section as the book gallops off to tell of the lives of the twins growing up, learning about life, sex, and how to cope in a city of poverty and political upheaval. The twins also become doctors in Addis Ababa. Their extended adopted family add much love to their lives.

The twins grow up during the rein of the Emperor Haile Selaisse and so the stories are interspersed with the politics of the cultural upheaval of the times. It was difficult to put the book down and not continue to think about the characters and what could possibly happen to them next. There is history, danger, suspense, romance, and just about everything one could hope for in a good story. At times your heart will break especially when Marion is forced to separate from his family and emigrates to America.

A big book to tackle but one of the most satisfying books I have encountered in a long time.

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