So much for the plan to review some books ‘over the next couple of weeks.’ The last-minute chance for a rare trip to England interfered with that, but now I’m back and beginning to catch up with myself.
Again on the theme of Africa, Cutting for Stone is a VERY BIG book, set in Ethiopia during political turmoil under the reign of diminutive but powerful Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia, Lion of Judah, revered as their god by Rastafarians and commonly known in Kenya at the time, irreverently, but affectionately, as Highly Delighted. 🙂
However, the emperor plays a minor part in the story. The main character is Marion Stone, one of twin boys born at a mission hospital to a nun and fathered by a doctor. Their mother dies in childbirth, and their father vanishes, leaving the boys to be raised by two Indian doctors. Both boys will grow up to become surgeons. Marion is a serious and studious boy, while his brother Shiva is a blithe hedonist.
Covering twenty-five years, it is a story of love in many forms. Forbidden love; brotherly love; lost love and parental love. It is also a tale of patriotism, treachery of the worst kind, and of redemption.
The author, Abraham Verghese is a doctor born in Ethiopia, who knows his subjects well and writes fluently and gracefully. All his characters are convincing and I soon forgot they were fictional as they drew me into their lives. Telling his story in the first person, Marion’s world is ripped apart as a teenager by a dual act of betrayal by two people he loves, which will have terrible repercussions over the next ten years.
There are numerous passages describing medical treatments and complex surgery, and I admit that I skipped through these and felt that they were often superfluous to the story. However, to anybody in the medical profession I imagine they would make interesting and informative reading.
At 600 pages – I read it on my Kindle so it wasn’t heavy 🙂 – the narrative IS slow and in the beginning I struggled to keep going, but I am so glad that I did because once hooked I found it a riveting read. Marion’s story is punctuated by cruel twists and sickening shocks, with a satisfying ending despite the fact that there is much tragedy along the way. I’m not going to give anything more away, but would recommend this as a work of fiction worthy of all the accolades it has received.
I hesitated between 4 and 5 stars. As a beautifully-written and compelling saga I feel it well deserves 5 stars. On the other I didn’t enjoy the detailed and lengthy medical passages and was tempted to deduct a star because of that. But then again it was simple enough to skip through them without detracting from the narrative, so it’s 5 stars from me.