Cutting For Stone, a novel by Abraham Verghese (who grew up in Ethiopia), is an impressive novel that I have been reading and re-reading lately and been enjoying it very much. Largely set in Addis Abeba, (and partially in New York City), spanning more than five decades, it tells the story of Marion and Shiva Stone, “twin brothers born of a secret union between a beautiful Indian nun and a brash British surgeon. Orphaned by their mother’s death and their father’s disappearance, bound together by a preternatural connection and a shared fascination with medicine, [they] come of age as Ethiopia hovers on the brink of revolution,” quoted from the book’s back cover text.
Here is a nice review from the New York Times: Cutting For Stone—Review.
As the NYTimes states, historical events that happened in Ethiopia and names of political actors have been modified to suit the author’s fictional purposes. But the author has almost accurately and passionately retold the country’s complex history and mainstream culture with the aid of literary tools; particularly, his attention to details is quite amazing.
Though Ethiopia and Eritrea (which was under Ethiopia in the novel’s time frame) serve as the backbones to the plot, “Cutting For Stone is an unforgettable story of love and betrayal, medicine and ordinary miracles—and two brothers whose fates are forever intertwined.”
I am not yet ready to provide my own review, but, instead, as a starter, I am going to share with you passages that have made me pause and that I think are worth sharing.
Let’s start, shall we?
First thing is first: Something from the Hippocratic Oath, which is the basis for the title of the book:
[...] I will not cut for stone, even for patients in whom the disease is manifest; I will leave this operation to be performed by practitioners, specialists in this art. [...]
On Addis Abeba:
I saw Addis Abeba anew. I had always thought it a beautiful city, with broad avenues in its heart, and many square with monuments and fenced gardens around which traffic had to circle: Mexico Square, Patriot’s Square, Menelik’s Square, … Foreigners, whose only image of Ethiopia was that of starving people sitting in blinding dust, were disbelieving when they landed in the mist and chill of Addis Abeba at night and saw the boulevards and the tram-track lights of Churchill Road. They wondered if the plane had turned around in the night and they were in Brussels or Amsterdam. … P. 314
… early lesson in Medicine: if you think you are sick, you will be. … P.313
On Happiness and Life:
… the key to your happiness is to … own who you are, own how you look, own your family, own the talents you have, and own the ones you don’t. …[otherwise]… you will die searching, you will die bitter, always feeling you were promised more.
… everything you see and do and touch, every seed you sow, or don’t sow, becomes part of your destiny… P. 350-351
You need a guide. You have to know what to look for, but also how to look. You have to exert yourself to see this world. But if you do, if you have that kind of curiosity, if you have an innate interest in the welfare of your fellow human beings, and if you go through that door, a strange thing hapens: you leave your petty troubles on the threshold. It can be addictive. … P. 275
On Life in America for the New Immigrant:
You there! Listen! Independence and resilience. This is what the new immigrant needs. Don’t get fooled by all this activity. Don’t invoke the superorganism. No, no. One functions alone in America. Begin now. Find your backbone, or be swallowed whole. … Screw your courage to the sticking place! … P. 465-466
… This isn’t your fight. I thought about that as I trekked to the [Sudan] border with two [rebel] escorts [running away from Ethiopia]. What did Solomon [a rebel from the North] mean? Did he see me as being on the [government of Ethiopia] side? No, I think he saw me as an expatriate, someone without a stake in this war [the civil war that erupted after the fall of the Monarchy and the military regime takeover]. Despite being born in the same compound as Genet [a girl he grew up with and loved], despite speaking Amharic like a native, and going to medical school with him, to Solomon I was a ferenji—a foreigner. Perhaps he was right, even though I was loath to admit it. If I were a patriotic Ethiopian, would I not have gone underground and joined the royalists, or others who were trying to topple Sergeant Mengistu? If I cared about my country, shouldn’t I have been willing to die for it? … P. 456
On fate and displacement:
… I saw him [an NYC cab driver] reach into the glove compartment. He pulled out a gun. … I knew guns. … This popgun of his on this day, in the context of America, … seemed like a prop, a cosmic joke. … Why escape Addis, flee Asmara, get out of Khartoum, and abandon Nairobi, only to face this? … P. 467
And that is it for now. I hope you get a chance to read this interesting book.