By Abraham Verghese. Grade: A
Cutting For Stone – languishing in its prose, bleeding in its vigour, seething in atrophy. Abraham Verghese in his debut fictional outing displays his skill in opening his readers’ minds to the worlds of Dr. Stone.
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.
The story of the twins ‘knifed’ at birth indeed deserves applause in the end. Marion and Shiva, the twins, go on to make medical revolutions in their own ways. One as a giver and the other as a receiver. Ethiopia, being the canopy under which Mr. Verghese runs his tale, sets it around a handful of people and it distinctly covers Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; America and nibbling India here and there.
Thomas Stone washes hands off his kids and runs in a direction unknown to him. America, the land of dreams and whatnot welcomes him. Marion and Shiva are brought up by Hema and Ghosh, who married for convenience and to raise these two little Stones. Their lives sail smoothly until the pangs of revolution withers them. In the meantime, Marion falls for Genet, and Shiva for women altogether. He accompanies his Ma, Hema, to surgeries and gynaecological affairs. Genet’s misguided missile does a rebound and Marion has to flee from his country, from a place he could call his home. Apparently, Ethiopia thinks he had a hand in the attack by Eritrean People’s Liberation Front. America gives him a second home and a degree. The scent of your hometown and women go nowhere but your nostrils and your heart. Genet lands in Marion’s room and in his bed too. The seed she gave him was not what he expected.
His twin Shiva scratches their estranged father’s experience and expertise. Dr. Stone, along with his assistant Deepak, turn a new leaf – for Marion, but it turns out the leaf of Shiva dries out. Hema and Marion return to Ethiopia with a part of Shiva living in Marion. Guess, he’s returned to the womb. But Marion’s.
Parents somehow know when everything’s not alright. They sense it in the air that’s gloomy. They pour their love unsystematically, and expect the same. Not less. Sister Mary Joseph Praise, biological mother of the twins blesses her kids, yet her absence leaves no void. Ghosh, the quintessential father figure teaches his kids what a father means, unlike the Stone who sutures wounds; brandishes sewn bonds.
A big lie in the form of truth, that’s how Mr. Verghese gets his story right. Female circumcision, liver transplantation, fistula surgery: these milestones and painful processes are very much a part of Cutting For Stone. An indelible, soundless noise it makes. Without roving ambitions, the characters in the novel act their parts succinctly.
“Greater love hath no man” calls out this novel. Cutting For Stone presents fictional versions of the Ethiopian revolution and as a marveller Mr. Verghese does his job of paying tribute to his icons. As gross as it may sound, the subject that plagues Africa, female circumcision is dealt with harmoniously. Today’s world may have seen living donor liver transplantation but cruelty and poverty doesn’t miss to blink its eyes.
“To die is easy, but to live you need heavier courage to walk the sodden lanes of memory.”