Friday, March 25, 2011

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese and a book group report

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
Copyright 2009
Vintage - General Fiction
Read in e-book form, which had no page numbers (but Amazon says the paperback has over 600 pages)

Cutting for Stone is an epic tale, but I've written a paragraph, deleted, written, deleted. I'm stuck. I think I'm going to have to go with Ye Olde Faithful interview format. Today, the cats are not available due to nap time, so I'm going to be interviewed by the color Green.

Green: Hello! I am ubiquitous. I am life. What's up with you?

Bookfool: Hello, Green. Yes, I see you everywhere outside my window. You and Yellow are making me sneeze. So, the book . . .

G: Yes, the book. Why did you read Cutting for Stone?

BF: I read it to discuss with my book group.

G: Would you have read it, otherwise?

BF: Nope. For some reason, I deliberately avoided Cutting for Stone for over a year. I read the description at Amazon, saw a million reviews online, looked at the cover (I really hated the hardback cover) and was totally turned off. Our Fearless F2F Group Leader talked me into reading it so that I could participate instead of sitting there, looking like I was watching a tennis match (I adore the way people get excited and talk right over each other, in that group).

G: What's the book about?

BF: That is the hard part to describe. It's about twin brothers born to a nun and a surgeon at a hospital where both work, in Ethiopia. The mother dies, the father immediately runs away, and two of the other doctors raise the boys, Marion and Shiva, as their own. Both boys, raised on the hospital compound, choose to become doctors, but with different specialties. Eventually, a rift develops between the twins and, thanks to political upheaval, one of them is forced to flee the country, where he goes through an entirely new experience as an immigrant. I thought it was about relationships, life, love, politics. Ethiopia is almost a character in and of itself. There is so much that happens and that would be spoilery that it would be best not to go into too much detail.

G: But, the author has something different to say.

BF: Yes, if you watch the video of Verghese at Amazon, you'll see he says Cutting for Stone is about how geography shapes your destiny (and more; I recommend the video -- he doesn't give anything away).

G: What did you like best about this book?

BF: There's a lot to love. I loved the characterization, the writing is beautiful, the details about Ethiopia are fascinating and it's really a story you can sink your teeth into -- meaty and very absorbing. I did the, "One more chapter, just one more chapter, okay one more," thing and wrecked myself thoroughly, one night. I didn't personally think there were any wasted words. Also, I adored the character Ghosh (one of the doctors who raised the boys) and his relationship with Hema was really a charming, tender love story.

G: What did your fellow book group members think about "wasted words" and the medical aspect?

BF: They agreed, for the most part, that the book was not overdone (as some critics have said) and absolutely everyone liked the book. But one or two people found the medical scenes a little Too Much Information, at times, and one person skimmed them without feeling like she missed out on anything important. There are a lot of medical scenes; medicine is integral to the lives of many of the characters. I found those scenes/descriptions a little gruesome, at times, but fascinating.

G: Was there anything you disliked about the book?

BF: I wanted to reach in and shake a couple characters and there was one time I said, "Oh, no!" out loud. So, no. I think you could say I became very involved and cared enough to want to give people who did bad things a kick in the shins and to wish I could stop Marion from disaster, at least once. But, apart from that, I guess the only thing I disliked was probably some of the medical bits that were so vivid I can't get them out of my head. I am way the heck too squeamish to have ever become a medical practitioner.

G: One of the reasons you avoided the book was . . .

BF: . . . the fact that everyone kept saying, "It's by a doctor!!" I've read a lot of medical thrillers and physicians who write have a tendency to write arrogant protagonists who mention (in dialogue or internally) their opinion that doctors are intellectually superior to other humans. There is one author in particular that I gave up reading because his protagonists did that in every single book. Physicians are superior to all the CEOs, lawyers, engineers, linguists, inventors . . . really? I just can't swallow that.

G: And, did you find this to be true of the author in Cutting for Stone?

BF: Absolutely not. In fact, there were so many physicians in the book that you got a broad viewpoint of different opinions about doctoring. Some were constantly questioning their ability to handle this or that, to make the right diagnosis or keep from doing damage to someone already in distress. One or two may have been a little arrogant. But, most were humble people who simply loved their chosen profession.

G: Do you recommend the book? If so, to whom would you specifically direct your recommendation?

BF: Never let it be said the color Green has no grasp of grammar. Yes, I highly recommend the book to anyone who loves a good story. Chunkster fans? You'll love it. Chunkster haters? I think you'll find it's such an engrossing read that you will not mind the thickness. Squeamish people? Well, I'm squeamish and I survived but if medical detail makes you heave . . . I guess you might want to skip. I'd advise you to skim, though, instead. I really think Cutting for Stone is that wonderful. I'm still thinking about the characters.

G: Any other thoughts?

BF: I really dislike Yellow. I can't say why.

G: That's very colorist of you. You realize I'm half Yellow.

BF: Oh, I'm so sorry. I just meant on walls, you know like eggshell is yucky compared to bright --

G: You might want to stop while you're behind.

BF: Thank you for interviewing me. You may now return to the plants and photosynthesize to your little heart's content.

G: You're welcome, but I don't have a heart because I'm actually just something your mind thinks it sees, just as the sky is not really blue and--


Book group report: We had fun!! I took a bottle of hard cider, for which the host gave me a lovely etched crystal glass in which to pour. I came home relaxed and happy! Nobody argued about this particular book, so it was really a much tamer meeting than usual. I just adore this group and had a great time.

Fiona Friday will appear, later today!

©2011 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.


  1. Anonymous6:32 AM

    Enjoyed your interview format. Glad your group liked this book. My book group read it in May of last year and we had a really meaty discussion even though almost all of us loved the book. I know that sounds strange, but most of the time when everyone agrees on opinions, the discussion can be a little dull. LOL

  2. lol Fun interview! I have just basically ignored this book, I guess. I have seen it around a lot, but I had no idea what it was even about!

  3. Kay,

    That doesn't sound strange at all. Our discussion was not quite as energetic, this time, because we did all agree that the book was great, the writing lovely, etc. We did have some interesting questions that nobody could answer, like, "What was the point of Marion's strong sense of smell? What was the author trying to say?" Lots of interesting questions came up, so it wasn't dull at all, just not as noisy because our group members didn't argue about anything! :)


    I didn't just ignore Cutting for Stone, I deliberately avoided it. That seems very odd, now that I've read it and found it such a great read. I'm not sure what you'd think of it, but it's definitely worth a try. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

  4. Anonymous4:46 PM

    I will never read the book but I enjoyed your review. I don't do medicine nor go to hospitals. But I like to visit with next door neighbors!

  5. Haha, I'll bet I know who is commenting anonymously. I don't blame you. If medicine isn't your thing, skip it. I like visiting with the next-door neighbors, too. :)

  6. Wonderful review! You are so creative and witty, Miss Bookfool. :) I have this in my stack, thanks to my mom who said it was excellent. This is the year I read all those highly recommend books. Just finished Sarah's Key and have moved on to Snowflower and the Secret Fan. The History of Love, The Postmistress, Cutting for Stone, and A Homemade Life are up next. Need. More. Hours. In. My. Day!!

  7. Thanks, Les! I got so thoroughly stuck with this one. It's complex, but for some reason the self-interview thing always works when I'm having trouble formulating my thoughts. I definitely think you'll love it. I liked Sarah's Key and Snowflower, too. Haven't read The History of Love or A Homemade Life, yet, but I have copies of both. The Postmistress was a turn-off, but I still think I'll give it a second chance. :)

  8. Well, for something with no heart I really enjoyed Green's questions.

    This one is sitting on my desk but I've been avoiding it as well. I have the paperback cover but I agree about the hardback. Actually was reluctant to pick it up because of the cover. Other than that I don't know anything about the book (skimmed as I prefer to keep it that way).

    Jealous of your F2F book club. I want one!!! I've even gone as far as looking on Craig's List but nada. Probably dumb idea anyway with baby coming soon.

  9. Trish,

    I don't think there are any spoilers in my review, but I would have done the same thing. I hate it when reviewers give away too much about a book I'm planning to read.

    I'm glad to hear I wasn't the only person put off by that cover! It took me almost no time to get into Cutting for Stone, once I gave in, though. I was really surprised how much I enjoyed it, especially considering its size. Due to the opening scenes, I'd wait till after you have the baby to read it, if I were you.

    As to the F2F club . . . it took me forever to find a group. There are 4 or 5 in town, but most of them don't advertise their existence because they're exclusive. They don't want new members; they're either friends from childhood or work or just uppity. I feel really lucky to have found a friendly, welcoming group after looking for so long! Have you asked around at bookstores? Sometimes a store owner will know of a book group that doesn't bother to advertise. That's how I found out there are so many in town, but it was my next-door neighbor who told me about my F2F group. The others weren't interested in letting me join.


Thank you for visiting my blog! I use comment moderation because apparently my blog is a spam magnet. Don't worry. If you're not a robot, your comment will eventually show up and I will respond, with a few exceptions. If a comment smacks of advertising, contains a dubious link or is offensive, it will be deleted. I love to hear from real people! I'm a really chatty gal and I love your comments!