Joy H.'s Reviews > Cutting for Stone

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
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's review
Feb 15, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: fiction, selection-of-library-bk-group, sampled-at-my-ebooks, e-book-google, medical-content
Read in June, 2011

_Cutting for Stone_ by Abraham Verghese (first published 2009)
Added 4/13/11:
NOTE ABOUT THE TITLE: For an explanation of the title of this book, see the end of this review.

4/13/11: I recently read a sample of this book at: and now I can't wait to read the rest of it.

5/12/11: The book has finally come in at the library. What a wonderful writer Verghese is! The lyricism of his writing is compelling. I'm up to Chapter 5. The map in the book helps a lot since I'm not very familiar with that part of the world [Ethiopia (Addis Ababa), Yemen (Aden), Red Sea area, Madras, Indian Ocean, etc.] It's satisfying to increase my knowledge of geography at the same time that I'm enjoying a good story.

6/10/11 : I finished this book around June 10. It was such wonderful read that I hated to see it end. The story got better and better as as the reading progressed. The ending was compelling! I recommend this book highly.

I wish I had read this book when our library group read it. However, the title didn't appeal to me. Cutting for Stone? That doesn't seem interesting! "What does that mean?", I asked myself! Now I know, thanks to GR friend (Margaret) who explained it to me. See explanation of the title at end of this review.

One of my group members, Margaret, has written some good comments, as usual. Excerpts from her review:
" Part family saga, part fictionalized memoir, part bildungsroman..."
"Taking its title from a mandate in the Hippocratic Oath, the book tells the story of Marion Stone, a conjoined twin disjoined at birth from his brother Shiva, from his childhood on the grounds of a struggling charity hospital in Addis Ababa, through his flight from Ethiopia during the 1974 revolution, his medical studies in American, his search for the father he never knew, and his quest for a sense of self. Verghese’s style often seems to be tugging at its moorings in the direction of magic realism but never actually goes there, always circling back with a sort of rueful joy to the awareness that the only magic there is, and perhaps the only kind we need, lies in the circumstances and relationships life offers us and what we choose to do with them. Luminous, vivid, and so filled with compassion for humanity that the book almost glows in your hands - there was a point towards the end that I had to stop reading because I was crying too hard to see the words on the page – this is a beautiful and beautifully written personal exploration not only of what it means to be a surgeon, but what it means to be a brother, a son, a father, a man. Really special.
NOTE: The book features a number of highly detailed descriptions of surgical procedures, and though Verghese is careful to maintain a cool, practical tone at these moments to keep from freaking out the lay-person, they are nevertheless extremely graphic and may be challenging for the squeamish!"
ABOVE IS FROM the GR review at:

Here is a SHORT SUMMARY of the story, but it's a spoiler for part of the story: (view spoiler)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR AND HIS WRITING TALENT, FROM A REVIEW ONLINE: "It is no coincidence that Verghese was born and raised in Addis Ababa to Indian parents around the same time as his protagonist. Verghese’s own biography closely reflects that of the protagonist twins in his novel. ... There is no doubt about it; Verghese is a lyricist whose way with words rivals his mastery of the scalpel—though I cannot attest to this as I have never had the opportunity to be operated on by him. Indeed, he is a prose poet whose manipulation of words makes every minutia an event of Biblical and lyrical proportions. It is the sanctity of his syntax, the deliberate and precise choice of words and their order in the sentences in which they appear that sets his novel apart, forcing even the least interested reader to continue turning pages, trancelike and mystified. Simple sentences ... are rendered at once wholesome and cavernous by the depth and simplicity of his language."
-Chloe Malle at Tadias Magazine at: (A very interesting article!)

MORE ABOUT THE AUTHOR: "Abraham Verghese is a surgeon and a writer, but most importantly for me, he’s a teacher. He does in fact work as a Professor at Stanford Medical School, but I’m referring to the teaching he does in his book." -FROM another great article online.
See more at:

Verghese, explaining his title in an interview…
“There is a line in the Hippocratic Oath that says: ‘I will not cut for stone, even for patients in whom the disease is manifest.’ It stems from the days when bladder stones were epidemic, a cause of great suffering, probably from bad water and who knows what else. […] There were itinerant stonecutters—lithologists—who could cut either into the bladder or the perineum and get the stone out, but because they cleaned the knife by wiping it on their blood-stiffened surgical aprons, patients usually died of infection the next day. Hence the proscription ‘Thou shall not cut for stone.’ […] It isn’t just that the main characters have the surname Stone; I was hoping the phrase would resonate for the reader just as it does for me, and that it would have several levels of meaning in the context of the narrative.”
(See this quote in the ADDENDUM near the bottom of the above web page.)
PS-The above link doesn't seem to work anymore. Instead, see:
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Comments (showing 1-13 of 13) (13 new)

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message 1: by Nina (new)

Nina Someone in our book club suggested this book yesterday and it sound very good. I think I wil try it. It certainly got glowing reviews. nina

Joy H. Nina, try the sample at Google eBooks:
Click on the arrow at the right when you get there.

TheGirlBytheSeaofCortez I read just the beginning, Joy and the surgical descriptions put me off, though the rest of the book sounded like it would be good.

Joy H. Gabrielle, don't let the surgical descriptions stop you from reading this story. I find it compelling. I'm reading the last few pages now and hate to see the story end.

The Los Angeles Times wrote: "Verghese creates this story so lovingly that it is actually possible to live within it for the brief time one spends with this book. You may never leave the chair."

The SanFrancisco Chronicle wrote: "Not a word is wasted in this larger-than-life saga. ... Verghese expertly weaves the threads of numerous story lines into one cohesive opus. The writing is graceful, the characters compassionate and the story full of nuggets of wisdom."

The Sunday Times (London) says: "Richly entertaining. ... Cutting for Stone honors the extraordinary, complex work of surgeons and physicians, but it also allows us to see them as ordinary men and women."

message 5: by Nina (new)

Nina Sounds like a winner.

message 6: by Nina (new)

Nina If I had a list of the best books I have read this, "Cutting for Stone," would be on it.

message 7: by Joy H. (last edited Feb 13, 2012 09:29AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joy H. Nina wrote: "If I had a list of the best books I have read this, "Cutting for Stone," would be on it."

Nina, that's why I gave it 5 stars! I really enjoyed the story and the way it was written. Besides, I followed the various places in the story on the world map and learned a bit about exactly where they are located. So I improved my knowledge of geography, not to mention my knowledge of medical subjects!

message 8: by Nina (new)

Nina One problem; I didn't want it to end. I loved the characters.

Joy H. Nina wrote: "One problem; I didn't want it to end. I loved the characters."

Me too, Nina.

message 10: by Nina (new)

Nina I found your explanation of the title, Cutting for Stone intriguing Thanks for Posting it.

message 11: by Joy H. (last edited Feb 14, 2012 11:52PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joy H. Nina, I'm always interested in the meaning of book titles and where they originated. I heard somewhere that a common source of titles has been the Bible. I think we see lots of titles originating in Shakespeare's works too.

At our GR group, I posted a topic about "Title Origins and/or Meanings". It's at:

Carole C I am not going to write a thorough review because I read the novel several years ago and passed it on to a friend. Howeverfound a number of passages in which the author described the beautiful and mysterious structure and function of the human body with style and grace... I was taken with these descriptions which could have only come from the pen of a surgeon who has explored and delved deeply into the landscape of human anatomy and physiology .

Joy H. Carole wrote: "... the author described the beautiful and mysterious structure and function of the human body with style and grace... I was taken with these descriptions which could have only come from the pen of a surgeon who has explored and delved deeply into the landscape of human anatomy and physiology."

Carole, you might enjoy the books of Mary Roach.
For example:

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

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