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Monday, November 7, 2011

Book Review: Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese


Reading Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese is no small undertaking. It is a massive book and the saga it contains covers India, Africa and America, and the entire life of a pair of twins, whose miraculous birth coincided with the tragic death of their mother, a nun, which caused their father to flee continents away. The book has won numerous awards, all much-deserved. It is hard to believe this great work is the author's first novel.

There is something for everyone in this book. It is rich with culture, religion, love, politics, revolution, tragedy, and LOTS of medicine and the metaphors it offers for healing. 

"We are all fixing what is broken. It is the task of a lifetime." 

The twins, Marion and Shiva, were conjoined at birth, and though twins, are nothing alike. Rather, they seem to be two parts of one whole. Marion is sensitive, sentimental, a dreamer, while Shiva is an impervious realist. With such divergent ways of thinking, the two are destined to go their separate ways in life, however, the one thing they have in common is their skill in medicine, inherited from both their biological and adoptive parents. 

Jeanette, the maid's daughter, is a constant figure in the boys' lives, and she is their undoing. Marion chases her while she chases unrealized dreams of her own greatness. Never quite satisfied with who she is, Jeanette unfortunately never realizes the greatness she has.

I give the book 4.5 stars. I would compare it to The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini in its epic scope and cultural richness, however, without the heart-wrenching violence. I would have given it 5 stars if I had connected emotionally more with the main character, whom I did pity, but he never quite reached me.

My favorite character in the book is Ghosh, the boys' adopted father and mentor. Below are some of my favorite quotes from him and others. Note: Some of these quotes may contain spoilers. 

“The key to your happiness is to own your slippers, own who you are, own how you look, own your family, own the talents you have, and own the ones you don't. If you keep saying your slippers aren't yours, then you'll die searching, you'll die bitter, always feeling you were promised more. Not only our actions, but also our omissions, become our destiny.”  Abraham Verghese, Cutting for Stone

'Because, Marion, you are an instrument of God. Don't leave the instrument sitting in its case my son. Play! Leave no part of your instrument unexplored. Why settle for 'Three Blind Mice' when you can play the 'Gloria'? .... No, Marion,' she said her gaze soft...'No, not Bach's 'Gloria'. Yours! Your 'Gloria' lives within you. The greatest sin is not finding it, ignoring what God made possible in you.”  Abraham Verghese, Cutting for Stone

“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 to 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.” ― Abraham VergheseCutting for Stone

“Pray tell us, what's your favorite number?"...
"Shiva jumped up to the board, uninvited, and wrote 10,213,223"...
"And pray, why would this number interest us?"
"It is the only number that describes itself when you read it, 'One zero, two ones, three twos, two threes'.”
― Abraham VergheseCutting for Stone

Other book reviews by me:

Little Bee by Chris Cleave

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
If On a Winter's Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino
Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns
Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen
John, Paul, George & Ben by Lane Smith
Thanatos Syndrome by Walker Percy
Fifth Born by Zelda Lockhart

The Mitford Years by Jan Karon


  1. I just finished a fantastic book by Jacqueline Winspear - it's called Maisie Dobbs. Seriously fantastic book. I give it 5 stars. Will add your most recent read to my list for next school break. :)

  2. Oooh! Thanks for the rec, Jess. Putting it on my list!

  3. I had kite runner on my list but kept forgetting to read it... I love the review u have written I could relate to this book & I do love Gosh! He remind me of my dad!

  4. Thanks, Wendy! Beware The Kite Runner has extremely graphic violence and sexual violence involving children. The scenes are haunting. Still, it is one of the best books I've ever read, so proceed with caution.