The first two-thirds of Cutting for Stone take place in Ethiopia. The blurb is deceiving. America shows up only in the final third. The story revolves...moreThe first two-thirds of Cutting for Stone take place in Ethiopia. The blurb is deceiving. America shows up only in the final third. The story revolves around identical twins, born conjoined and separated at birth. Their birth sets the stage for their entire lives. Their mother, Sister Mary Praise dies in childbirth and their surgeon father disappears. Thus, as the twins are physically cut and severed from each other, they are also severed from their only blood relatives, their birth parents. The two remaining attendent surgeons become their surrogate parents, or, as would be more relevant to the story, their transplanted parents.
Surgical and social severing, reconnecting and transplanting continue to the very end of the book in myriads of ways. Like blood pumping in and out of the heart, gushing out of wounds and being transfused back in, so does the social organism of characters cycle. Relationships break off, reconnect, disconnect, evolve, adapt. And the country of Ethiopia experiences such change as well through coups and the exile and return of Heile Selassie.
This is an epic story told by Marion, one of the twins. Unfortunately, I struggled with his first-person observations of his birth and early childhood years. This could have been written differently and created a more genuine reading experience. Fortunately, there was much more that kept me reading. I'm a medical jargon dolt, but I appreciated Verghese not dumbing that down. I learned a lot. I didn't understand it all, but it was clear enough that I could usually imagine what he described and understand it. He also did not dumb down the historical elements of the story. Although I did not look up anything medical, I did go online to learn more about Ethiopia and Heile Selassie's rule. Partly because Selassie's name brought up negative connotations in my foggy memory, but also because I knew nothing of Ethiopian history and wanted to know more. I am glad I did. It enhanced my understanding of the story.
Given what I have said so far this would have been a four star read for me. Fast forward to the last third of the book. I absolutely loved Marion's residency experience in New York. That is until all the characters of his past begin to show up in America. Without giving anything away, I realize now as I write the review, that the liver resembles what occured between Marion and his family and community. Again however, believabiliy was stretched.
For me, a wonderfully interesting middle bookended by story elements that could have been improved upon. Recommended, but with some reservations. (less)
If medicine gone awry makes you squeamish this could make you explode. (And yes, spontaneous combustion shows up in one of the most squallid of these...moreIf medicine gone awry makes you squeamish this could make you explode. (And yes, spontaneous combustion shows up in one of the most squallid of these tales.) From 1600s brain surgery to twentieth-century silicone breast transplants, each chapter of this book contains a doctor from a long genealogical line. Sometimes the doctor is the main character, sometimes they are basically bystanders, often their wives or daughters are the protagonists. Some historical aspect of medical history is contained in each chapter. Sometimes, however, history itself takes center stage.
At first I tried to read this like a novel, making family connections from generation to generation. But, at times, this was not always clear. I then realized the book read more easily as a string of short stories. I guess you could say the generational connections were not unlike the way one generation sometimes knows its family history and sometimes it doesn't. And some family history is better buried and forgotten. You may want to forget these doctors who dabble in all sorts of experimental, cutting-edge and just plain wacky medicine. But there couldn't be the doctors without the public full of people who willingly subject their bodies to everything from shock treatment and lobotomies to radium and phrenology.
Every story/chapter left me feeling like I'd just awoken from a strange dream or spent fifteen minutes looking at pictures of people with the world's longest fingernails, which totally creeps me out. The quality of the stories varies a bit, but overall the writing is quite good. Recommended for people fascinated with news of the weird or looking for something off-beat.(less)