Cutting for Stone
by Abraham Verghese
(Knopf, $26.95) ISBN 978-0375414497
*****
What is it that makes one book seem better than another? Authors all have the same words at their disposal. Perhaps it's a certain sense that the words could not, should not have been in any other order or a sense of fatalism for the characters - that they could not, should not have done anything other than what the author has them do. In his finely crafted and emotionally gripping debut novel, Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese achieves this.

We first meet the narrator, Marion Stone, as he (yes, he has a girl's name) and his twin brother, Shiva, are about to be pried from the dying body of their mother, Sister Mary Joseph Praise, an Indian nun working at Missing (a mispronunciation of Mission) Hospital in Ethiopia.

With this enticing start the story retains a sense of wonder and uniqueness throughout as we follow the twins through their eventful lives, learning both about love and medicine as they grow up under the protective wings of Missing doctors Hema and Ghosh who rear them as their own after their mother's death and their father, Dr. Thomas Stone's, untimely departure.

Politics, poverty, cunning, revolution, education, love, and surgery envelope the characters as they mature. Since childhood Marion has loved Genet, the daughter of the family cook, but it is Shiva, with his clinical distraction, that sets the ball of betrayal and escape in motion. Marion finally ends up in New York where he finds deep satisfaction in becoming an adept surgeon, but it is not until his reunion with his father, and a self-sacrificing gift from Shiva, that Marion truly begins to understand life and love.

Being a professor of medicine, Abraham Verghese includes many medical details in the story, but he also creates unique and memorable characters and settings based on his own Indian heritage and his life in Ethiopia for this epic family saga.

--Laura Johnson


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