Tuesday, April 13, 2010

"Cutting for Stone" an Excellent Novel

Just the other day I finished an excellent novel by Abraham Verghese titled, "Cutting for Stone." It tells the story of two twins, Marion and Shiva stone from how their parents met to their tumultuous birth through their childhood and adolescent years and then into adulthood. The majority of the novel takes place in Addis Ababa, the capitol of Ethiopia. And while the location may not seem like it would be all that important, Verghese makes that country and city come alive. He does this by telling some of the history and describing the world around Addis in a way that make syou feel like you're there. In addition to the excellent character development, the way he brings Addis Ababa alive is a huge bonus to this lively tale.

Marion and Shiva's life, from conception through their young adulthood is spent on the grounds of Missing Hospital (Verghese explains that the word "Mission" is not pronouncable to the Ethiopian tongue and so comes out as "Missing"). The hospital is run by Carmelite nuns, one of whom is the boys' mother and staffed by two doctors from India and up until the boys' birth an English Surgeon named Thomas Stone, the boys' father.

Although this may sound pretty far fetched, it is a beautifully, well written story with some very poignant vingettes. For example: before having to operate on an Ethiopian Colonel who is one the outs with the Emperor we get this beautiful confession of what the priorities of the nation should be;
"My journey, my pain, my operation...," the Colonel went on, "God was showing me the suffering of my people. It was a message. How we treat the least of our brethren, how we treat the peasant suffering with volvulus, that's the message of this country. Not our figher planes or tanks, or how big the Emperor's palace happens to be. I think God put you in my path." page 184

At another point in the book there is wisdom of another sort as Marion is sitting with his terminal step-father, one of the Indian Doctors named Ghosh:
"I spent as much time as I could with Ghosh. I wanted every bit of wisdom he could impart to me. All sons should write down every word of what their fathers have to say to them. I tried. Why did it take an illness for me to recognize the value of time with him? It seems we humans never learn. And so we relearn the lesson every generation and then want to write epistles. We proselytize our friends and shake them by the shoulders and tell them, "Seize the day! What matters is this moment!" Most of us can't go back and make restitution. We can't do a thing about our should haves and our could haves. But a few lucky men like Ghosh never have such worries; there was no restitution he needed to make, no moment he failed to seize.
Now and then Ghosh would grin and wink at me across the room. He was teaching me how to die, just as he'd taught me how to live." page 424

"Cutting for Stone" is a beautiful novel, well worth your time and attention. I hope you allow yourself the opportunity to allow Abraham Verghese's amazing story of life to wash over you.