Cutting for Stone
Abraham Verghese is a doctor of Indian descent, brought up in Ethiopia and currently Professor of Medicine at Stanford University, California. He is the author of two well-regarded non-fiction books on AIDS and Cutting for Stone is his début novel.
Epic in both scale and ambition, it spans continents and generations in telling the story of Marion and Shiva Stone, conjoined twins born of a relationship between an Indian nun, Sister Mary Praise, and Thomas Stone, a British doctor at a Mission hospital in Addis Ababa.
The events surrounding the twins’ birth could hardly be more traumatic: their mother dies in childbirth and their father disappears. Separated moments after birth, the boys are raised by foster-parents at the Mission hospital and both grow up to be doctors, immersing themselves in the political turmoil that was Haile Selaisse’s Ethiopia. Marion is eventually forced to seek exile in the US, where he becomes a surgeon in the Bronx, a position which leads to a climactic encounter with his father, a meeting that changes everything he thought he knew about himself and his twin.
Verghese has a very discursive style – there are meandering ruminations on politics, medicine and cricket. There are also some rather graphic descriptions of surgical procedures which the squeamish may prefer to skip. Overall, though, this is an excellent first novel, teeming with memorable characters and dealing with momentous events; the sort of old-fashioned yarn in which the patient reader can become immersed, emerging from the experience better informed and with an enhanced understanding of the human condition.