Monday, December 27, 2010

Review of Cutting for Stone

When I told my aunt that I had just read a really interesting book about Ethiopia, she told me that I HAD to read Cutting for Stone - that it was one of the best novels of the decade. While I definitely enjoyed reading it, I think my aunt was laying on the hyperbole a bit thick.

Cutting for Stone is the story of Marion and Shiva Stone, identical twin brothers born to a nun who dies in childbirth in a Catholic hospital in Addis Ababa, and the doctors and nurses who care for them. The author, Abraham Verghese, is a physician, so the book is chock full of medical references and descriptions of maladies written so that the layperson can understand. The boys' biological father, Thomas Stone, was the head surgeon at the hospital and leaves upon their birth (and the nun's death), never to be seen again until much later in the book.

The book also takes place just prior to and after the deposition of Haile Selassie, and was an interesting counterpoint to Sweetness in the Belly, as the narrator (Marion) is very male and a doctor (whereas Lilly was female and a nurse). Religion has very little presence in this book compared to Sweetness, and the descriptions of medical procedures conducted in the hospital are riveting.

The mystery of the book is how Marion and Shiva's mother conceived them. It is clear that Dr. Stone is their father, but he seems just as surprised when she goes into labor as everyone else in the hospital, none of whom knew she was pregnant. All is revealed by the end, and the bulk of the book is rich and interesting. But it was not close to being the best book of the past decade.


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