Resurrected book review: Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese

From 2013.


I found out what book I’m listening to (as it was gifted on burned CDs with handwritten labels by a coworker).

It’s one of those recent bestsellers (as of 2012) that was on the POTUS’ summer reading list.


I rarely read those kinds of books.

But yeah, it definitely feels weighty enough, packed with history and local color (specifically, Ethiopia in the 1940s, just past WWII) — though not as tedious and soulsuckingly depressing as proper Literature that I was exposed to so much in college — and oh my god so much medical detail.

I literally drove home yesterday half the time with my hand pressed over my mouth, because of the exceedingly graphic description of a Caesarean section with a dying mother and a shitload of complications (twins conjoined at the head!!!).  And then the doctor and assumed father (though he JUST REALIZED he’s in love with her like an hour ago, when he found her almost dying, and can’t remember ever having intercourse with her) couldn’t handle it and so he slit open her chest and seized her heart with his bare hand, pumping it frantically and shouting at a god he doesn’t believe in to provide a miracle, “until her heart became mush” it actually says that oh my God I was not prepared for that.

Did I mention she was an exceedingly devout Indian nun named Sister Mary Joseph Praise and NO ONE NOTICED she was pregnant until they found her in labor?

Anyway, I’m withholding judgment, but right now the scene I like the most was how a female Indian doctor, Hemalatha, seized a French pilot by the balls after he recklessly killed one of the plane’s engines (a plane in 1946) to make an “emergency” stop to collect cargo for great profit and in the process broke a small boy’s leg — anyway, it’s a fabulous scene and so well written.  But I can definitely see how some complain about the slow pace of the book, seeing how the author packs in so much background detail and character extrapolation into each scene.


I’m in Chapter 51, and I feel the need to say:

Marion Stone is a sad, pathetic, developmentally stunted man (also a rapist) and I hope he gets tuberculosis and dies.


Well, I guess contracting hepatitis B when he loses his virginity for the first time at age 31 (in a pretty violent way, disregarding her pleas to stop in the second round) and nearly dying is almost as good.


Final thoughts: it’s a good read for the amount of historical and cultural detail you learn about Ethiopia and other parts of the world.  I really liked the stories in the first half, about Sister Mary Joseph Praise, Hema, and Ghosh.  It was fascinating, as always, to read about an immigrant coming to America for the first time (in 1980) and their impressions and experiences.

There were some great anecdotes and moments of humor (one of my favorites: when Marion, the narrator, and his childhood friend and doomed love Genet are eleven years old and playing a game of blind man’s bluff after bedtime, except she straps his arms to his body with a belt and puts a rice bag over his head in addition to the blindfold. Then, since they previously discovered Marion and his twin have super-sharp senses of smell, she takes off all her clothes and leaves them in another room before hiding in the pantry. He finds her anyway, and realizes she’s crying, and he kind of nuzzles her gently. She takes the bag and belt off, but leaves the blindfold on, and then they have their first kiss — mostly innocent, tentative and exploratory, but also with touching each other’s genitals. Not with any purpose, just childlike curiosity bordering on the next stage, but then they hear Genet’s mother approaching and hastily separate and Marion takes the blind fold off, but she still finds them there — her daughter naked, Marion clothed — and demands to know what they’re doing. “Just playing a game,” Marion says, holding up the belt and blindfold.  NOT REASSURING, MARION).  I liked the differences between the twins, though Shiva bordered on a Gary Stu.

Did not so much like the coming-of-age stuff, because Marion got unbearable (and I thought he would grow out of it, but he really really didn’t) and Genet’s story gets exceedingly unhappy, and there’s a lot of misery and lack of moving forward with one’s life.

Hema and Tsige were my favorite characters, by far.  They made my life.  At first I wasn’t sure how I felt about Hema’s concept of marriage as a one-year contract that’s up for either of them to cancel or renew at the end of each year, but then I realized oh my God, that’s actually a wonderfully feminist and practical idea.  There would be so much less heartache and bitter disappointment in the world if that was everyone’s idea of marriage. But yeah, I won’t deny I’m still drawn to the idea of finding someone to commit to for lifeand everything that means.

And Tsige, oh man.  Such an incredible badass.  So impressive. Especially how she didn’t just sleep with Marion that first night she saw him again, but stopped and made him go away and consider, and of course he’s too developmentally stunted to contact her again, but he has to lose his virginity to the childhood obsession who’s about to give him heptatis B and almost kill him and indirectly cause the death of his brother.

But Shiva’s death, and Marion’s understanding of it, was really, really touching, though.

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