Customer Review

99 of 108 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Cut Above The Rest, 11 July 2009
This review is from: Cutting For Stone (Hardcover)
As a reader, I'm always in search of that book I would rate a "10" but, unfortunately, these books don't come around that often. Sure I've read books in the past year that I've given 5 stars to but their actual rating was less than a "10". They probably fell in the "8" or "9" range. I've read some really good mysteries this year but I rate them according to their genre so I don't really put them in the same category as good literature. I knew the second half of this year had some potential as three of my favorite authors, John Irving, Pat Conroy and Richard Russo, all have books coming out. But then I started hearing some buzz about this book set in Ethiopia, Cutting For Stone, so I thought I'd give it a try. It's not one I would have picked up on my own simply because the title was so weird. Cutting For Stone....what the heck is that? With the long 4th of July weekend looming before me, I knew I wanted to read something great and decided to take a chance with Verghese's novel. I'm so glad I did.

I've always been the type of reader who loves when an author takes me somewhere I've never been before and, while there, teaches me things I've never known. When they're able to do this teaching without preaching, it's an extra added bonus. I've never been to Ethiopia and I know I'll never go there. When I think of Ethiopia, I have visions of a totally undeveloped country. While I'm sure these visions are partially true, Verghese really opened my eyes to another part of the world in a country where medical teams still strive for perfection without the kind of money that easily flows into many of the hospitals of which we're familiar. Verghese's Ethiopia is filled with people who love their country and their food and their smells and their customs. And when a time comes that they leave their beloved country behind, they miss it as much as we would miss ours. Just recently, I was driving down a street in Manhattan and I saw an Ethiopian restaurant. Other than thinking that they surely have every single kind of restaurant in NYC, my other thought was, "Who would go to an Ethiopian restaurant?" After reading this book, it is clear to me how much business this restaurant probably gets from all of the people who have made their way to this country from Ethiopia and what a blessing it must be for them to get some real home cooking on foreign soil.

When you have an author who grew up in the country he's writing about, it makes everything seem so much more real as these are his real experiences. It reminded me of reading The Kite Runner by Hosseini and how much I got to learn about Afghanistan because it's where that author spent most of his life. In this case, not only did Verghese grow up in Ethiopia but, while there, he also became a doctor. The fact that a majority of this book takes place in a hospital lends itself to some more first hand knowledge from this very gifted author. Another part of the knowledge I amassed was about the politics of Ethiopia under the rule of Emperor Haile Selassie and the political coups during that time to try to take him down. I found this part of the book fascinating.

Before I give you the impression that this book has no story and it's just a learning experience about a country and its ruler, I have to say that it is every bit the story for which every avid reader is searching. It's a novel that's epic in scope and begins on a ship sailing from India to Yemen where a young nun meets a very seasick British doctor and is able to nurse him through that voyage. Some years later, they will meet again in a hospital in Ethiopia where she will become his right hand through every one of his surgeries. Until one day, she doesn't show up in the operating room and the real story begins. Twins are born, secrets are not revealed, lives are shattered and all of this will be narrated by one of the male twins...Marion. I am not even going to go into the entire summary of the book because too many other reviewers here have given too much away already. Suffice it to say that you will not be able to put it down. Every time I picked it up, I was wondering where each of these characters had been since I was last reading. The author does an amazing job of inserting you into their lives and developing characters you will come to love...Matron, the ruling nun of the hospital; Hema, the gynecologist; Ghosh her beloved husband and surgeon; Dr. Thomas Stone, head surgeon; Sister Mary Joseph Praise, his loyal assistant and the twins Shiva and Marion. I'm already making this review longer than I wanted so I'll leave the story there because I know you will be reading it yourself.

It's a tale of love and hope and desire and "enlightenment". I say enlightenment for two reasons. Clearly each of these characters will have their eyes opened in such a way that it will make a mark on their souls. But I can't help but think that there are some references to Buddha that can't just be coincidental. In two separate cases, the author has one character returning from prison...after 49 days of imprisonment...while he has another character becoming unconscious....after 49 days of the onset of an illness. This is the exact number of days (49) that Buddha meditated before he became enlightened. I would love to know if this was done intentionally.

I recently had a friend tell me that they had given up on reading books that had in excess of 500 pages. I can't understand this statement because most of my favorite books were definitely in that category. So what else can I say about the book that was clearly my favorite so far this year. I just wish there were more books like this and more authors who could tell a story like Verghese. All I can say is thank you for 534 pages of reading bliss.
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 17 Jan 2010 21:08:55 GMT
Mrs Book Pig says:
Hi Nancy, thanks for the great review. I really think you would love this book Sacred Games. I was so distressed at the thought of finishing this offering from Vikram Chandra I forced myself to stop reading it for 3 weeks or so to postpone the inevitable. As you describe Verghese - reading bliss. Alison

In reply to an earlier post on 17 Jun 2010 14:09:09 BDT
I agree, many thanks for a great review - you've sold this too me. I also loved Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns and am now in the middle of 'The Other Hand' which so far is amazing for so many of the reasons you have put in your review - the background of the country, the story, being taken somewhere completely different, etc... I have also read a wonderful book called Shantaram and would recommend that one to you - again it's a long read but based on the real experiences of the reader, made into a novel - a great story. I will also be trying Sacred Games, thank you Mrs Moy.

It's extremely geeky but I get so excited when I see a review like this! I think the English student is still buried somewhere inside me!

In reply to an earlier post on 14 Jul 2010 14:04:55 BDT
KJ Lench says:
I've been recommended to read this book, but I was quite distressed by A Thousand Splendid Suns and well written as it was, it's put images in my head that I wish I didn't have. Will I feel the same about Cutting for Stone?

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Jul 2010 19:31:37 BDT
Possibly... There is a moment in 1000 suns where they go into some details when talking about the stoning of the adultress couple and similarly in Cutting for stone there is a moment when the narrator describes in some detail the rape and murder of her sister. It's another beautifully writtn but quite graphic novel - I will leave it to you to decide!
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