Last night five members of our book group met to discuss Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. I and two others had read the whole thing (and loved it), and the other two had stopped after a couple hundred pages—one because she found it too slow-going and the other because she found it too sad and depressing.
This is a big, sprawling novel, beginning in India, settling in Ethiopia, and finally making its way to the Bronx. It tells the story of identical twins who are quite literally separated at birth in order to be delivered alive. Their mother, an Indian nun working as a nurse at a missionary hospital, dies in childbirth (you find this out right away, so no spoiler alert needed); their presumed father, a British surgeon, flees the delivery room and vanishes. The boys are raised lovingly by two Indian doctors at the hospital, and both are destined for medical school.
But not so fast. All kinds of tragedies befall these kids and their loved ones, from a government coup to a disloyal childhood friend to a false accusation to a rebel army and so on. I had known next to nothing about the recent history of Ethiopia, and I certainly wasn't aware that there is (was?) both a sizable Indian immigrant population and a thriving "little Italy" there. Verghese grew up in Addis Ababa, son of Indian schoolteachers, as he tells in this brief video at Amazon.
Verghese is a doctor, and all of the main characters in the book are doctors, so it's no surprise that there's a ton of medical descriptions in the plot, which I found mostly fascinating and only a little bit squeamishy. The characters were very realistically drawn and believable, and if the plot relied a bit heavily on coincidences, I was able to forgive that for the sake of the overall story.
Most of all, I loved the writing. Verghese crafts beautiful sentences, paints pictures with his descriptions, creates realistic-sounding dialogue, and explains foreign concepts clearly. For a long book, I found it effortless to finish—indeed, a pleasure to read.
We're skipping August and don't yet have a book picked for September—any suggestions?