This month, our Book Club chose the novel Cutting for Stone as our choice for discussion. The unusual title comes from the ancient Hippocratic oath regarding the practice of medicine: “I swear by Apollo and Asclepius and Hygieia and Panaceia to be true to her, for she is the source of all. I shall not cut for stone.”
The novel has obviously been written by a physician and surgeon since it contains arcane verbiage which is not ordinarily a part of the average reader’s vocabulary. Still, Dr. Verghese writes in such a manner that his presentation is understood and appreciated by those unfamiliar with medical jargon.
Some readers may be shocked at the premise of the tale – twin boys are born of the union between an Indian nun and a British surgeon who have worked together for several years in Ethiopia. The death of the mother at childbirth leaves the boys – named Marion and Shiva – orphaned when their father, Dr. Thomas Stone, escapes the trauma and is not heard from again until the last chapters of the novel.
The care of the boys is taken over by two loving foster parents, both medical doctors familiar with the origin of the boys. They are known to the twins as Hema and Ghosh who provide the boys with a stable and loving upbringing.
Marion is the narrator of the story and reveals that he and is twin seem to be one person to which he refers as MarionShiva. Their childhood occurs during a time of revolution in Ethiopia, from which the twins are protected. The boys develop an interest in medicine since they are surrounded during their early lives by medical personnel at Missing Hospital where their foster parents work.
Another child enters the picture when Genet, the daughter of their Nanny, becomes part of the trio as they spend their time together growing up. Marion reveals his deep love for Genet to the reader, yet hesitates to tell Genet of his feelings for her. His devotion to her keeps him from any illicit relationship with women far into his adulthood. Shiva, on the other hand, has no qualms about his moral obligations and eventually causes a rift between Marion and Genet which is never healed.
Shiva attains acclaim in his native land for his medical accomplishments in gynecology, while Marion leaves the war-ridden country and settles in New York City as a surgeon in his own right. Throughout their childhood and adulthood, the twins have never set eyes on their father, knowing only that he is probably in the United States.
The ending was so startling and with no foreshadowing that it left me completely surprised. Abraham Verghese has written a novel unlike any other and should probably expect the story to be produced as a film in the next few years. The book has had a two-year run on the New York Times bestseller list.
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (2009)