Cutting for Stone is an elegantly written novel that is both a family epic and a tribute to the art of medicine and surgery.
I read Cutting for Stone as part of the 2021 Thoughtful Reading Challenge. June’s challenge was to read a book with twins as characters. Cutting for Stone certainly fit the bill – one of the twins, Marion Stone, even narrated the story.
The novel begins with what Marion has been able to piece together about his parents. His mother was a nun and nurse at an Ethiopian hospital that would become a home to Marion and his identical twin, Shiva. His father was a brilliant surgeon in the same hospital. I was worried that the circumstances leading to the conception of the babies would be tawdry (a pregnant nun?), but it wasn’t.
In a long, grisly labor room scene, Sister Mary Joseph Praise loses her life and the devastated father of the babies, Thomas Stone, flees, abandoning the boys to be raised by the hospital’s two other doctors, Hema and Ghosh.
The twins grow up in a loving household, but the family’s harmony is temporarily disrupted by events like political coups, military crack downs, and even the angst of puberty. I thought the political themes of the novel were particularly interesting and illustrated how power can go unchecked in nondemocratic societies and how vulnerable this leaves citizens. It also explains how communism, with its promise of income redistribution, can get a toe hold in so many countries.
As they mature, the once inseparable twins develop their own, unique identities while still maintaining a strong, but battered, bond. Mentoring by their parents and spending a lot of time at the hospital has influenced them to pursue medicine, but in very different ways. “Medicine” was another well-developed theme that I really enjoyed. The author, a doctor himself, obviously has great reverence for medicine and for those who practice it with skill and compassion. The book is populated with decent physicians. It was refreshing. The author also goes into great detail about medical conditions and procedures – I now know more about how livers function than I ever wanted to know!
I also liked the pervasive spiritual theme in the story. Most of the characters believed in a higher power and would pray (sometimes to multiple gods) in times of trouble. The nuns translated their faith into service to the poor. And there were even some incidents depicted as signs from long-departed Ghosh and Sister Mary Joseph Praise. It gave the book a slightly mystical feel.
My only complaint is that, at 690 pages, it’s a bit too long and dragged in a few places. Or maybe I should blame my shrinking attention span.
Overall, I give Cutting for Stone an enthusiastic thumbs up. Strong, likable characters, vivid settings, and positive themes make this an excellent read. Thanks, Laine and Julia, for the recommendation!
Did you read a book with twins as characters this month? Tell us about it!
**Reminder – July’s challenge is to read a book by a French author. Lots of classics to choose from, but I need to do some research on contemporary authors. (and how is it already July?!)