Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

June 22, 2013

cutting-for-stone Plot summary (from the publisher): Marion and Shiva Stone are twin brothers born of a secret union between a beautiful Indian nun and a brash British surgeon. Orphaned by their mother’s death 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.

Moving from Addis Ababa to New York City and back again, Cutting for Stone is an unforgettable story of love and betrayal, medicine and ordinary miracles–and two brothers whose fates are forever intertwined.

Warning: Spoilers below!

Liked:

  • Verghese populated this novel with mostly interesting characters. Marion, of course, was the most three-dimensional of the lot, but Ghosh, Hema, and Genet were wonderfully constructed as well. Having good characters made it relatively easy to stick with the book even when the action started lagging.
  • I really enjoyed the story of Sister Mary Joseph Praise and Thomas Stone. Usually I have no patience for long, drawn-out backstories that simply serve to set up the main action, but that wasn’t the case here. Verghese actually left me wanting to know more about SMJP and Stone.
  • Although the Marion/Genet love story was predictable, it was sweet enough (without becoming overly saccharine) that I didn’t mind how much time it took up in the novel.
  • Considering the sheer scale of the novel, I thought the pacing was pretty good. To be sure, there were some boring parts that I had to will myself through, but on the whole Verghese managed to keep this one flowing right along.

Disliked:

  • Shiva was such a shadowy figure throughout the book that I had trouble feeling any real emotion when he died. Yes, that part was emotional — but I was sad only because Marion was sad, not because Shiva died (if that makes any sense). He was so detached and clinical even from a young age that I viewed his passing in the same way.
  • I didn’t care for the descriptions of political upheaval in Ethiopia. I know the unrest had a big impact on the characters’ lives and therefore had to be examined in some detail, but I still didn’t like it.
  • I thought it was a little…convenient…for Marion to run into people from home when he was in Boston. The U.S. is a big country, yet several people from his tiny village ended up in the same city? Is Boston known as a mecca for Ethiopian expats or something?
  • I didn’t like that Genet was the direct cause of Marion’s serious illness and the indirect cause of Shiva’s death. Again, the whole chain of events just seemed way too contrived, even for a work of fiction.

Rating:

I purposely avoided Cutting for Stone for a long time because of the length of the book and all the hype and praise surrounding its release. I typically end up being disappointed by books that seemingly everyone raves about, and didn’t want to invest so much of my time only to be let down. But I think this novel actually deserves most of the accolades. The author created interesting characters, gave them a compelling story, and put them in a unique setting — all of which resulted in an absorbing book that I mostly enjoyed reading. I give this one 4 stars out of 5.

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