Sunday, December 7, 2014

"Cutting for Stone" by Abraham Verghese

Boychik Lit Book Review - No. 14

Here’s my book review of Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese.

The book’s title refers to a pledge in the Hippocratic Oath, "I will not cut for stone." Although the original meaning had to do with not removing bladder stones, it would perhaps be more relevant to today's medicine for a new doctor to promise, "I won't perform treatments just for the sake of making money.”

So, it’s all about ethical choices and doing the right thing.

The story flows from the unlikely and surprising birth of a pair of twin boys, Marion and Shiva, by an Indian-born nun, Sister Mary Praise, in Ethiopia in the 1950s. The father is an English surgeon, Thomas Stone, who heads the field clinic. The story is narrated by Marion. It’s about Marion’s finding his way in the world as he grows up, his identity both bonded to and becoming separate from Shiva, and eventually becoming a surgeon himself. The boys’ mother dies from the difficult birth, and their father abandons them. It’s a story about family, community, betrayal, parental love and estrangement, sibling bonding and rivalry, personal bravery, not-so-uncommon acts of kindness, the heroic practice of medicine, suffering and compassion--and irony. Things just don’t turn out in the ways you’d expect.

Author Abraham Verghese is likewise a practicing surgeon, now living in the U.S., who grew up in Ethiopia. His account seems autobiographical, but much of it is invented, as he explains in detail in his Acknowledgments.

I heard him speak at a book signing at an Ethiopian restaurant in Los Angeles, and he mentioned that he admires W. Somerset Maugham. This book does remind me of Maugham’s Cakes and Ale, including the crafting of its sentences. Maugham also studied medicine, and Vergehese has said that Of Human Bondage was one of the books that motivated him to become a doctor.
Verghese also said in an interview that “a book is a life you live without giving your life.” You probably never thought about how challenging it would be to practice medicine in a place like Ethiopia, but here’s your chance.

For Boychik Lit, I’m Gerald Everett Jones. I think you’ll enjoy my humorous novels Mr. Ballpoint and Christmas Karma. And you can catch these podcasts on

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