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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1,255 of 1,278 people found the following review helpful: 5.0 out of 5 stars "We are all fixing what is broken. It is the task of a lifetime.", February 12, 2009 This brilliant novel revolves around what is broken -- limbs, family ties, trust -- and the process of rebuilding them. It starts with the birth of twin boys to a nursing nun, Sister Mary Praise Joseph, in a small hospital on the outskirts of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; an event which no one had expected: "The everyday miracle of conception had taken place in the one place it should not have: in Sister Mary Praise Joseph's womb." The delivery rapidly becomes a debacle when it's clear that Mary Praise Joseph can't deliver her baby normally; the last minute arrival home at "Missing" (the Mission Hospital) by Indian obstetrician Hema saves the children, but their mother dies and their presumed father father, surgeon Thomas Stone, disappears into the night.
That brief summary does no justice to Verghese's powerful and remarkable prose style or the structure of the first part of the book which, although it revolves around the tragedy that claims the life of the twins' mother, also introduces the other main characters who will take the place of their biological parents. Darting back and forth between the events in the surgical theater (as Thomas Stone, horrified at what he sees, first tries to save Mary Joseph Praise's life by collapsing the skull of the infant he believes cannot be born alive), the mundane daily activities of his fellow doctor, Ghosh (trying to escape what he believes is a hopeless love for Hema) and Hema's struggle to get home to Missing from her annual holiday in India, the reader will find it impossible to put the book down and wants only to find a way of reading faster and faster to discover what happens next. By the time the twins are born, attached by a blood vessel at the head and separated at the last moment by Stone and Hema to save their lives, the reader will find himself or herself resenting every moment not spent following this story until the tale is told. And even when you are finished, the novel and its more-than-compelling characters will linger on in your mind...
Separated at birth, the twins grow up in the Ethiopia of the Emperor Haile Selaisse's reign, and Verghese introduces the reader to an ancient world that will be new to most readers, with all its flavors, colors, scents and sounds. His remarkable artistry ensures that this is never jarring but always intriguing and that the characters -- Indian expatriate doctors raising their two foster children, born to an Indian nun and an American surgeon, with the help of an Eritrean caretaker and her own daughter -- feel as familiar to us as if they were members of our own family. In the manner of a classic epic, Verghese picks his themes -- separation, the intersection of sex and death, wounds and what surgery can and can't accomplish -- and sticks to them throughout. And yet, those themes -- sweeping ones for any novelist to tackle -- never overshadow the fact that this is, at its core, the story of two brothers, Shiva and Marion -- or ShivaMarion, as Marion, the narrator, describes their single-minded unity in their youngest years.
Ultimately, the political events in Ethiopia and family betrayals send Marion fleeing to the United States. His odyssey seems to rupture all these ties and yet by the time the novel ends, we realize that every step has, in fact, been bringing Marion, Shiva and their extended family closer together as well as toward a resolution of the various plot twists. Training as a surgeon in a Bronx hospital where the only interns are from overseas ("the bloodlines from the Mayflower hadn't trickled down to this zip code", Marion reflects wryly), the finally encounters his birth father in person -- with dramatic consequences -- and has a chance to make peace with Thomas Stone, Shiva -- and himself.
Anyone familiar with Veghese's non-fiction writing (two very compelling memoirs, My Own Country: A Doctor's Story and The Tennis Partner) knows that he is an impeccable prose stylist. But relatively few non-fiction writers can also write wonderful fiction, much less produce this kind of complex drama. Rarer still is that this is a debut novel. Even the remarkable coincidences of the final third of the book never feel anything less than pitch-perfect: a real tribute to both Verghese's carefully-constructed plot and his eloquent, pitch-perfect writing.
It is rare for me to stumble over a novel of such a high caliber, one that creates the kind of characters I have never met before, characters who now are as vividly alive in my mind as any of the real individuals who populate my world. May this be only the first of many novels that Verghese produces for us, his lucky readers.Help other customers find the most helpful reviews Was this review helpful to you?
309 of 318 people found the following review helpful: 5.0 out of 5 stars Are You Your Brother's Keeper?, February 10, 2009 Customer review from the Amazon Vine? Program (What's this?) Throughout this magnificent novel, this question is answered affirmatively over and over again. Whether your brother is your identical twin, an orphaned child, an unfortunate neighbor, or a stranger, each person deserves to be cared for.
Beginning in India, the story progresses to Africa where it remains until the protagonist immigrates to America. Marion, the narrator of this fictional autobiography, is one of a set of identical twins. His birth and life at the mission, Missing, provide the basis for the conflicts and triumphs contained in the novel. The historical backdrop, Ethiopia's internal conflicts and coups, impart additional depth to the book's realistic atmosphere. The title "Cutting for Stone" is taken from the Hippocratic oath, but may also reflect a double meaning. The biological father of the Marion and his twin, Shiva, is Thomas Stone, a famous surgeon. In what may be a subconscious effort to emulate and impress their absent parent, both become skilled surgeons. They are "Cutting for Stone".
This is one of the most outstanding books I have been privileged to read. Verghese is a skilled writer and draws the reader into the book immediately. The characters are strong, interesting, and very human; the conflicts are realistic and keep the pace of the novel moving forward. Even minor characters are sufficiently well developed so that the reader would like to know more about their lives. There is gentle humor, emotional turmoil, and great personal triumph throughout the book.
Allow yourself the luxury of time to read "Cutting for Stone" without interruption. If you do not, you will find yourself thinking about the characters and wondering what is going to happen to each one. In my opinion, that is the mark of a great book - the author has captured your attention and quietly demands you give it to nothing else. When a book as fine as "Cutting for Stone" is involved, you are more than happy to comply. You can, if necessary, read this book in multiple sessions without losing interest or forgetting what has previously occurred.
Had I been allowed to rate this book more than five stars, I would have done so. It is truly a masterpiece.Help other customers find the most helpful reviews Was this review helpful to you?
239 of 250 people found the following review helpful: 5.0 out of 5 stars Fiction at it's Best, February 10, 2009 Many readers will tell you that Cutting for Stone is the epic story of two conjoined twins fathered by a brilliant British Surgeon and an Indian Nun. And it technically is. Narrated by Marion the first born twin we are told of every influence on his and his brother's existence. More than the story being told however, the novel is an accurate portrayal of life in all it's cruelty and wonder.
The twin's mother dies in childbirth and their father abandons them minutes later. They are raised in a missionary medical hospital in Ethiopia. As they grow up they are forced to face their past and futures re-defining the meanings of destiny, love and family.
While reading you will notice the fine points are painstakingly researched as the story is and packed full of medical jargon and situations along with vivid descriptions of Ethiopian culture and history. My only reservation in recommending the book is the novels "hard moments" as almost every imaginable tragedy touches these brothers, and medical operations and oddities are very detailed. Squeamish readers may want to skim some of these passages.
All in all, this novel is elegantly told, superbly structured and the most original piece of fiction I've read in years. It's deserving of every positive adjective I can throw at it; marvelous, and thrilling. You will want to own and lose yourself in this book again and again. Buy it now, and thank me later.
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