Cutting for Stone (and Somewhat Associated Things Like Marley and Chang and Eng)

cutting for stone cover

If you’ve been around me in the past 2 months (since that’s how long it takes me to read a novel these days, apparently) and the subjects of nuns/medicine/twins/
Ethiopia/India/Rastafarianism/Haile Selaisse happened to come up, chances are I couldn’t help but mention the very, very good book I finished last weekend: Cutting for StoneIt had come to me on recommendation from my parents and an aunt, and I’ll admit I didn’t know what to expect. While they all swore that it was definitely a book worth reading, other adjectives that speckled their reviews included ‘weird,’ ‘odd,’ and ‘dark.’ Not that any of those things are necessarily bad, especially when it comes to literature.

I’m still feeling out how I want to approach the sharing-of-books on my blog. I have no interest in supplying spoilers (where’s the fun in that?!) and I realize I’m in no way a qualified book reviewer, but suppose I could present a brief summary of the basic plot? And, however ridiculously, I’m including a catalog of my favorite quotes from the book at the end of the post. To be honest, this was a pretty gratifying part of the reading experience, for me. I’d make a small dog-ear at the bottom of the page where a memorable quote appeared, then when I finished I went back to all those pages and found the pertinent passages. It was a good way to really refresh and absorb some of the more interesting parts without having to re-read the entire story, though I’d say this is a book that certainly deserves a Second Read.

Dr. Marion Stone narrates our tale, which takes place predominantly at the Mission (or “Missing,” as it’s referred to for the entirety of the book on account of a mispronunciation on the part of the local people) Hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The story follows the childhood of Marion and his brother, Shiva– [formerly]-conjoined twins, the almost-instantly-orphaned love children of a young Indian nun (who dies giving birth) and the English surgeon to whom she was a loyal and invaluable assistant (who flees upon delivery). (Their birth and the circumstances leading up to it– most of them, anyway– take up the first quarter of the book.)

Their orphancy is short-lived, as they become the cornerstone of what becomes a family unit between them and Hema and Ghosh: the remaining two surgeons at the hospital, also Indian immigrants. Abraham Verghese paints a vivid and intricate scene of 1960’s Addis Ababa– the blend and clash of the influences of various North African ethnicities, Indians, and Brits (and not without the residual Italian touches); the precarious politics of Emperor Haile Selaisse; the scents of the stews, the grime of the bars, and the warmth and comfort within their little homes. Perhaps even more vivid and intricate are Verghese’s periodical descriptions of a variety of medical procedures; which, though detailed, graphic, and at times grotesque, are fascinating above all. As any good story should, it’s got its fair share of love, heartache, betrayal, and forgiveness as the boys grow into men and demonstrate that they have very different things to offer to the medical world (and each other).

Lolzlolzlolz that ended up turning into a super cheesy review anyway but I’m over thinking about it so, voilà.

To make up for that I’ll take this time to make a quick plug for the 2012 Bob Marley documentary simply titled Marley. I won’t even make a lame attempt at a review, I’ll just tell you it’s awesome and (of course) chock-full of great music and you won’t be sorry you watched it.

What the hell does that have to do with Cutting for Stone?, you may be wondering. Emperor Haile Selaisse is the link… I have a bit of a fixation right now (as I mentioned in my People’s Key post, because Conor makes a number of Haile Selaisse references on that album as well). The Rastafarians believed he was their new Messiah and he was also revered by (most of) Ethiopia for awhile as well, but you see in the book that he has his share of skeletons. But his whole story has struck such a deep chord with me… I like, almost feel like I want to get a Lion of Judah tattoo or something. (I mean, not really…)

Oh and one last somewhat-associated thing that I promise is worth your time:

The story of Chang and Eng Bunker, the Thai conjoined twins whose condition (and circus appearances) inspired the name “Siamese Twins.”


Alright and finally… my preferred quotes from the book (as I said this was as much for my benefit as anyone’s haha): Continue reading