Book Review: 'Cutting for Stone' by Abraham Verghese
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
Abraham Verghese's 2009 novel Cutting for Stone is about the effects on destiny of geographic dislocation brought about by political upheavel.
That's according to the author himself, so I'm glad there was no test at the end. I would have failed, because I would have said the book is about karma and grace--specifically grace in time and grace as time.
Set in post-War Addis Adaba and relating the life story of its narrator, Marion Praise Stone, Cutting for Stone is about a man whose life course is redirected by political upheavels as well as the whims of the people around him whom he loves. Those upheavals and whims eventually work together to cause Marion to flee his homeland and resettle in New York, where he works to become a surgeon in the 1980s. While this dislocation shapes his destiny in profound, beautiful, and painful ways, the whims of the people around him do more to influence the shape of his life. Some respond with love and respect; others, with sheer callousness that took my breath away. How he responds to his experience of these events is a measure of his soul as well as of his capacity for love.
Marion is the identical twin of Shiva, and these boys are born to a woman who is a nun who is deeply loved by their father, a brilliant surgeon. How the nun and surgeon meet and work side-by-side for seven years before the birth of the twins remains largely a mystery until the end of the novel. Why the father refuses his sons and runs away from the life he had made in Addis Adaba is another mystery for most of this brilliant novel.
He and Shiva have the good fortune of being raised by Hema, a gynecologist, and Ghosh, a medical doctor, who had worked with their father at the same under-funded struggling hospital that serves the poor in a seemingly forgotten part of the world that is a crossroads of Ethiopian, Italian, Indian, and American culture. Together they endure political upheavals along with the ordinary dramas of girls and boys growing up, feeling loved or not loved enough and coming to terms with the unfairness and cruelty of the sequence of accidents that make a life.
Life can change, Marion remarks, in the time it takes a cat to swipe at a sparrow. That is karma. The way the cat behaves is karma. The way the bird responds is karma. We make it happen. Somehow.
In time and at the right time, answers come, mysteries are solved, and love, like cooling, soothing water, finds its level in Marion's life. The wisdom that makes these things possible comes from the father who walked out on him at his birth, who had carried them from a time before himself, and who brings it back to his son. The aid that is administered through the ear: Words of comfort.
It's a beautiful book, rich and clear and complex and deeply rewarding.