If I didn’t have a long wait in an airport terminal with no bookstore and only this book with me, I may not have tried to read Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for Stone. Having had the book on my shelf since February, I had started it several times but now my plan was to bring it on my trip, force myself to finish it, and give it away.
The birth of twins to an Indian nun at a mission hospital in Addis Ababa grabbed my attention, but I wasn’t counting on the details of every medical procedure that the author, a doctor, provided. Even slipping over “obstipation” vs. constipation, and the subsequent surgery, wasn’t enough.
Sister Mary Joseph Praise takes 13 chapters to die and be buried, but it seems even longer as the plot gets lost with the medical instruction. By that time Thomas Stone, the
arrogant, brilliant doctor who has fathered the twins, Marion and Shiva, has fled the country. Ghosh falls asleep reading Middlemarch, perhaps an obscure reference to the compromising marriage Ghosh and Hema, two other doctors at the mission hospital – mispronounced Missing – make to raise the twins. When Verghese expounds on curing an infant’s apnea, I was ready to find George Eliot’s classic and forget Cutting for Stone.
The novel plods on through the twins’ childhood, coming of age, and more minute medical detail. I flipped through the coup, lovers, graduation, relocation to Manhattan – but still could not engage in the story. Even Shiva’s betrayal of his twin brother by sleeping with Genet, the girl Marion has always loved doesn’t spark much action.
Finally, the last few chapters provided some relief and more connection to the characters – a resolution to the angst of growing up abandoned by a famous surgeon father and a dead mother, and the restored loyalty and connection of the twins. Verghese does manage to create a clever dilemma – medical, of course – that draws father and sons and brothers together.
I left the book at the gate, hoping someone else would get more out if it than I did.
Maybe I’ll check out a copy from the library someday and reread it – doubtful – unless, as the Tracy Chapman song says, you can “…give me one reason to… and I’ll turn right back around.”