Thursday, May 12, 2011

Writing on Reading: Cutting for Stone

When I saw my mom recently she recommended the novel Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. She's in tune with the latest books so I always listen when she says, "It's good."
Cutting for Stone is a literary novel with beautiful lyrical prose, meandering plot, nonlinear chronology, and deep insights into the human condition. According to Verghese, "The story is a riveting saga of twin brothers, Marion and Shiva Stone, born of a tragic 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, and 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." With the wealth of details about Addis Ababa and medicine, Cutting almost reads like an autobiography.

I would say the primary draw of the novel is the joy and beauty of medicine it conveys. (The title is a reference to the Hippocratic oath.) Almost all the characters are medical professionals and have devoted their lives to their avocation. Thus, another draw is the amazing compassion exemplified by the characters. The emergency treatment administered 'by ear', i.e. words of comfort, is mentioned several times. Interestingly, while the two brothers would do anything for their patients, they don't seem to have much compassion for themselves. Neither one of them has a life outside of medicine, which seemed to be the case for their biological parents as well.

A possible theme of the novel is "missing": the twins' biological parents are missing, their biological father is missing a finger, the twins' adopted father goes missing, a crucial letter is missing, and the medical center where they live is called Missing. And I'd say their self-love is missing. But that's the beauty of literary fiction: there's more than one possible interpretation. What do you think the theme was?

As a writer, I found some of the author's choices very interesting. For example, Verghese utilizes multiple pov characters, several 3rd-person pov and one multiple-first-person pov--the narrator! Additionally, this novel is almost all narrative, "telling", in the writer's vernacular. Also, since we know the deepest thoughts and feelings of each pov character, there is an omniscient feel to the book. (Are the minds of each of these characters differentiated?)

Have you read it? What did you think?

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