Genia Lukin's Reviews > Cutting for Stone

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
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Apr 02, 11

bookshelves: historical
Read from March 24 to April 02, 2011

** spoiler alert ** The thing about this book...

The thing about this book, is that is manages to jump from a one-star tome which I feel like throwing at the wall, and a five-star work of brilliance. Where does the change occur? Well, self-evidently, when Verghese the writer gives way to Verghese the physician. Because when he is describing surgery and medicine and what it takes to become a doctor and what develops in us the wish to be one, he's brilliant. But when he ventures to talk about Ethiopia twins, and all these other wonderful things that writers love so much... Eh.

I admit a large measure of personal interest and comprehension. My whole family are physicians. We seem to sprout doctors at a rate of several per generation - except it mostly skipped mine - and the topics of discussion around our table can be things like detailed description of a chap who got his nose bitten off by a horse. You can imagine how much appetite guests tend to have. My being an EMT helps with the ability to take the nicely realistic medical scenes more as literary pleasure than as something gruesome to avoid. So these parts I enjoyed.

But my enjoyment bottomed out when he went into some sort of typical political diatribe, or clichéd teenage maturity story, or religious digressions... These parts, I can freely say, I didn't enjoy one bit.

So I gave the book two stars as a sort of compromise, because much to my chagrin the latter scenes far outnumbered the former.

Many, many things irked me about this book. I made a brief list in my memory, and I will point some of them out here, though not in any sort of order, sorted neither by chronology nor by importance.

-The twins. Oh, the twins. The regular Ishmael twin, serving as narrator and a sort of second fiddle or pair of eyes to view his special Ahab twin. The genetically identical twins that grow up in the same household to nevertheless produce the eccentric genius but slightly inhuman perfect twin, and his brother the normal, shy, perfect protagonist twin. That literary cliche makes me tired. And when, pray tell, will we ever get a story with both identical twins of similar ability? Or perhaps, even, a story told by the "special" twin about his poor normal brother? Why must all twin or sibling or best friend arrangements in literature feature this specific pattern of a couple? I don't know, but I am sad that this was the case here.

-Again, the twins. I've read, some few months back, a book to do with a sibling needing to donate their organs for a sick sibling. The sick sibling got the organ and lived, while the healthy sibling died suddenly in some sort of freak accident, leaving their sacred memory, blah blah. I didn't realize, when I picked up Cutting for Stone, that I am due a reread of My Sister's Keeper.

-The ending. The lover writing a letter to the father of her babies a day before she dies, him never getting that letter until thirty years later Circumstances conspiring to keep it locked and tucked away. Mischance, Mis-this, mis-that. A favoured literary device, but no less annoying for all of that.

-The over-generalization. Verghese sins in a perverse, reverse sort of racism, which is much, much better than its uglier, more common cousin, but still managed to get on my nerves. The women in Ethiopia are universally beautiful. The students in government schools are uniformly smart and eager. It provides a portrait of Ethiopia as distant and obscure as any Eurocentric novel could. What's this, again? It's okay to create stereotypes if they are favourable? Pardon me if I choose to disagree.

-Meandering narrator. For some reason, and this drove me to distraction at the beginning of the book especially, the author chose, time after time, to go where I, the reader, didn't want to be, and run away from where I did want to be. I suppose he'd be surprised that, as the main focus of his book until that point was lying bleeding on the operating room table, I was not inclined to sit back and trace the ancestry and childhood of characters whose names until then only came up in brief mention. I concur, the histories in and of themselves were not at all uninteresting, but I could have done with them elsewhere.

It's unfortunate that the book succumbed to so many flaws. i was anticipating reading it, and had a real affection for the medical parts. The energy of the author, which was lacking elsewhere, came through in force in these bits, and you could see his sympathy with patients, and understanding of disease and hurt and all these other things that make healthy people or sick people. Otherwise, the book, to me, felt like the creation of an artist who has all the tools, but simply lacks the eye.
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03/27/2011 page 13
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message 1: by K.D. (new)

K.D. Absolutely Nice review, Genia.


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