And if you haven’t read it you can look forward to it! It’s the story of Marion Stone and his brother Shiva, twins born to a nun who kept her pregnancy secret, and raised by a pair of Indian doctors in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in the 1950s. Most of the book is about their childhood at the mission hospital that employs their adoptive parents and I liked that part the best. I thought the book lost a lot of its charm when the action transferred to the U.S. where Marion goes for medical training. In fact, Marion was one of my least favorite characters. I much preferred reading about his natural parents (Thomas Stone and Sister Mary Joseph Praise) and later his adoptive parents, Hema and Ghosh, and the denizens of the mission hospital: nurses, gardeners, drivers, nannies, Hema and Ghosh’s colorful friends, the local prostitutes and politicians, and the hospital’s patients. Marion by himself is brooding and obsessive and the book doesn’t pick up steam again until the end when characters are reunited (though tragedy accompanies their reunion).
Erica Wagner, writing in the New York Times, says that Verghese’s writing owes a debt to Salman Rushdie and John Irving, and I agree. When describing this book to a friend the other day I said that it was like a lot of Indian novels in its scope and sprawl, and the book’s “capacious” feel (Wagner’s adjective) reminds me of Irving’s books, too. Though it’s something of a reach to compare Verghese’s writing to that of these two masters. His dialogue can be awkward, and he breaks some elementary rules of form when he uses Marion’s first person narration to describe events at which Marion was not present. But these are minor quibbles.
(Book 39, 2011)