Cutting For Stone / Abraham Verghese

After writing two acclaimed books of nonfiction, physician-author Abraham Verghese tries his hand at his first work of fiction with Cutting for Stone.  Having read and enjoyed The Tennis Partner, his second book, I was eager to see how he fared in a fictional world.  My main complaint about The Tennis Partner was the author’s propensity to lapse into melodrama.  This was held in check by the fact that he was dealing with a true story.  However, without this constraint, the melodramatic elements in Cutting for Stone predominate.  It is a family saga set in Ethiopia and the United States.  Marion and Shiva are identical twins born of a secret union between an Indian nun and a gifted British surgeon at a mission hospital in Addis Ababa.  Marion, the story’s narrator, opens the book by chronicling the death of his mother in childbirth, his father’s disappearance immediately after, and the twins’ adoption by another female Indian doctor at the mission.  This opening section, while interesting, is overly long and slow in making its point.  It is a problem that occurs throughout the novel.  There is much to like about this story—its Ethiopian setting, the medical operations described, and description of immigrant physicians working in poor, urban American hospitals.  I know many people who have read and loved Cutting for Stone.  I myself thought the help of a good editor would have made it a much better book.  As it was, I found myself disappointed.  Still, I acknowledge the difficulty for a writer to move from nonfiction to fiction, or vice versa.  Verghese is to be commended for taking on such an ambitious saga in his first work of fiction.  While he stumbled in the attempt, I look forward to his next try where it is likely that practice will make perfect.

 

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