Posted by: Corri van de Stege | March 6, 2010

Cutting for Stone in the Sunday Salon

The TV Channel 4 Book Club has a list of ten books, each one of which is discussed in turn on Sunday nights at 7 o’clock on More 4.   There are even reading lists with questions for each of the books, available on the website.   One of the books on the list and discussed a couple of weeks ago, is Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese and it was greatly recommended by more or less all panelists I seem to remember.  The panel consists of a motley group of people, not necessarily people you immediately associate with high literature or with being book reviewers; rather they are TV and arts personalities who like you and me enjoy reading a good book, and include Jo Brand, Gok Wan, Nathaniel Parker, Laila Rouass and Dave Spikey.   I had not heard of all of them before coming across them on this panel, but they are a likeable bunch of people, who freely admit that left to their own devices they would probably never read some of the books that are on this list.   And the same probably goes for a number of viewers / readers who watch the programme.  On the list is the Rapture by Liz Jensen, which I reviewed a few weeks back, Little Stranger by Sarah Waters, which I had read before I realised it was on this list, and one that I have now finished is Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. 

I must say I might never have come across some of these books, there is always only so much that you can read, but I am really enjoying myself reading some of them.  They are great stories and well written.   I will probably try and read my way through most of them.

Cutting for Stone starts by relating how the twins Marion and Shiva are born in 1954 in ‘The Missing Hospital’s Operating Theatre 3’, the very room in which their mother, Sister Mary Joseph Praise had spent most of her working hours.   Until the delivery no one actually knew that she was pregnant, not even the suspected father of the two boys, Dr. Abraham Stone, who finds himself delivering the babies.

This beginning of the book has you hooked; you are absolutely intrigued about who these people are, how come the man is the suspected father, and who are these other people that somehow become involved with bringing up the children.  You start turning the pages of this quite fantastic but also believable story of this family and all their relationships, the twins, their adopted parents, living through Ethiopian uprisings, the horrors of Eritrean war, and also the exile in America of one of the twins.

Verghese knows his medicine and so there are accounts of tricky surgery that  is carried out, with entrails lifted and put aside in order to have better access to organs deep inside the body, to better slice a piece of the liver, or sew up burst ducts and channels, and you cannot help but marvel at all of this knowledge and writing expertise that makes it so fascinating.  The story is also about the sense of belonging whilst at the same time being the outsider, about migrations and not knowing who you are. 

Marion and Shiva are like chalk and cheese, quite different from each other in character, and when something happens that makes Marion resent his twin brother, then the story follows its own inevitable path, one thing leading to another, the twins growing further and further apart, yet being bound, until the ultimate and seemingly inevitable tragedy.

‘Cutting for Stone’, the title of the book, is an allusion to the Hippocratic Oath ‘I will not cut for stone, even for patients in whom the disease is manifest… (P.181) but also to the stone in the fruit ‘there is the stoneless fruit of love….’ and the search for love from an absent parent, Dr. Abraham Stone, who disappears after the birth of the twins.

The story is also a family saga of doctors, surgeons and how their passion for medicine is inextricably linked to who they are as people.  There is a lot in this book that is quite original and surprising, and it covers a vast canvas of family life, war and peace, love and hate and longing and passion.



  1. Loved this book sooooo much!

  2. Wow! How intriguing this sounds…

    BTW, I love the book and concept behind your blog! I’ll be back to visit again.

    My Salon:

  3. Come on over to my Rainy Days and Mondays blog to collect an award:


  4. Sarah – I love your blog and will visit.
    Laurel Rain Snow – I am on my way to your Rainy Days and Mondays blog… thank you.

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