Kathy's Reviews > Cutting for Stone

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
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's review
Sep 30, 11

bookshelves: book-club, books-i-own, drama, literary, ethiopia, medical
Read from March 10 to April 01, 2011

I haven't kept up very well this year with adding the books I've read. This is one I chose for my turn hosting book club in April. It was the first time I chose a book I hadn't read yet, but I felt confident based on some reviews and the ratings that it would be a good one. What I hadn't realized was how graphic and disturbing some parts would be. I think I would have still read it because I became engrossed in it right from the beginning, but I would not have chosen it for book club recognizing it might be too much for some of the members. One friend in book club asked me what I thought the redeeming value of the book was with all the darkness that was in it. I thought about that for a couple of days and then emailed her, and I'm glad I did because I'll just copy that in the next paragraph as my review.

The thing I enjoyed most about the book was the storytelling. I think it told a fascinating story that stretched across a great deal of time and touched on several parts of the world. There were little stories within the story that were so interesting like the nun's journey to Africa, Thomas Stone's childhood, Hema and Ghosh's relationship, and so on. I felt like the characters and setting were described well enough that I felt like I knew them and could see them. I really enjoyed the style of writing. I was fascinated by the medical side because that has always interested me. Even people that did really bad things, you kind of got to learn how they got to that point, why they might have made those choices, and they always suffered the consequences of those choices. Some things were really hard to read about. Female circumcision is a horrible, terrifying thing and it was really hard to read about, for example, but it shed light on what that means and how it affects those women throughout their lives. This used to be something very secret and hidden, but because people have been made more aware of it, there are huge movements to stop this kind of thing and help these women now. It is in no way presented as good or acceptable. It's shown as the horrifying thing it is. As I read the book I thought of the Book of Mormon talking about the "traditions of their fathers." When people are raised in a certain way with certain belief systems, things that seem normal and right to them may seem crazy and wrong to us, and sometimes they really are! So there were those parts that were difficult, but there were also really good characters that sacrificed for others and loved with all their heart and lived good lives. And there was the message that hanging onto past hurt and grudges is destructive. I don't think I would have chosen this book for book club if I had read it first because of the offending parts, and in the future I doubt I will choose a book again that I hadn't read yet, but I am glad I read it and think it was beautifully written and it gave me a lot to think about. It also gave me a lot of knowledge and understanding of a part of the world I knew very little about.

So that was my response. This book completely sucked me in and made me care about the characters, even when they were making me mad. Six months later I still feel like I know those characters. I keep going back and forth between four and five stars on this one. Maybe I'll have to read it again before I decide for sure to see if it holds up. I'll leave off with a quote that I found inspiring.

I chose the specialty of surgery because of Matron, that steady presence during my boyhood and adolescence. "What is the hardest thing you can possibly do?" she said when I went to her for advice on the darkest day of the first half of my life.

I squirmed. How easily Matron probed the gap between ambition and expediency. "Why must I do what is hardest?"

"Because, Marion, you are an instrument of God. Don't leave the instrument sitting it its case, my son. Play! Leave no part of your instrument unexlored. Why settle for 'Three Blind Mice' when you can play the 'Gloria'?"

How unfair of Matron to evoke that soaring chorale which always made me feel that I stood with every mortal creature looking up to the heavens in dumb wonder. She understood my unformed character.

"But, Matron, I can't dream of playing Bach, the 'Gloria' . . .," I said under my breath. I'd never played a string or wind instrument. I couldn't read music.

"No, Marion," she said, her gaze soft, reaching for me, her gnarled hands rough on my cheeks. "No, not Bach's 'Gloria.' Yours! Your 'Gloria' lives within you. The greatest sin is not finding it, ignoring what God made possible in you."

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