I’ve decided to do book reviews again. Today, I’ll review Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. This book was commended to me by my dear friend Erin, who is uncompromising with her reading standards and so can always be trusted for a good recommendation. By the way, she loved The Other Side of Silence.
Cutting for Stone is a historical fiction that takes place in Ethiopia (and later in in New York) and is centered on a missionary hospital. It follows the lives of conjoined twins born in scandal, and raised by the doctors who surrounded them at their birth. The introduction looks back at the story from the endpoint, and felt like it gave me some information about the way things play out. Instead, it managed to only add tension and suspense at all the critical moments. As a writer, that truly impressed me.
Each character in the book is believably flawed, and ascends to their own moment of beauty at some point in the novel. Secondary and minor characters are often illuminated with a few artful phrases, so the world Verhese creates is full and rich without wasting words. I was also very impressed at how the two main characters are written so well as to stand completely on their own, and yet also exhibit a blend of qualities inherited from their birth and adopted parents. Those qualities flesh out and lead them in ways that are totally separate from their parentage, which seems consummately realistic to me.
The only caveat to my admiration for Verghese’s characters would be Genet. She enters the story inexplicably, exits in infamy, and seems to do nothing but harm on her way through the world. In fact, she brings out the absolute worst in all the characters she comes in contact with, and in the end her very blood is a deadly poison. She can’t even be described as a destructive force of nature, because destruction in nature is almost always renewing in some way. Because the rest of the book is so precise and masterful, I would really love to hear the author talk about that character and what was behind her creation.
Since I loved this book so much, I will tell you about my very favorite part, which actually made a significant impact on the way I see the world. One of the characters dies of cancer, and he dies so well and so happily that I return to the imagery of his death quite frequently in my mind. To him, the best thing in the world was to be surrounded by the family that he loved, the ragtag home he’d built up around himself, being served with the compassion and care he’d shown to others his whole life. For most of my life I’ve talked about where I want to be when I’m 50, but this was the first time I really thought about what will be important to me at the end of my life. Verghese brings an end to one of the most beloved characters with a total lack of morbidity or pathos, and that alone makes it inspiring.
I highly recommend this book, and it has the notable honor of being one of twenty-four books I’ve given a five-star rating.