Friday, December 30, 2011

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

This was one of those books I avoided because everyone else was reading it. I can be so narrow-minded sometimes, usually to my detriment, as in this case! If you’ve already read this, I’m sure you liked it. Who didn’t like it? It’s one of those sprawling old-fashioned novels that offer something for everyone: memorable characters, unique locations, plenty of action, and lots of emotion.

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)


Corri said...

I agree - I very much enjoyed this book and probably because as you say, it's one of those 'old fashioned sprawling novels': great way of putting it!

Sam said...

I came kind of slowly to this one, too, but it turned out to be one of my favorites of 2010. I went on to read some of the author's other work, including a really good memoir of his, but this is still my favorite of his. I love getting lost in these big family sagas. Sometimes it takes me a while to get into the really long ones, but I am almost always a little bit sad to leave the world they create.

Ted said...

I have avoided it for the same reasons you did, maybe it's time I gave it a look! Happy 2012.

Anonymous said...

I loved this book. What a breath of fresh air - a great mix of the sprawling Rushdie style magic with an interesting insight into a different society.

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