K's Reviews > Cutting for Stone

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
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's review
Dec 02, 09

bookshelves: africa, should-ve-been-shorter, maybe-it-s-me
Recommended to K by: TABBIEs book club

If I were really honest, I would probably put this on my "couldn'tfinish" shelf because I skimmed the last 150 pages. As one reviewer said, a book has to be pretty amazing to justify 500+ pages. And while this book had its strong moments, it mostly fell short of amazing.

The story, in a nutshell, is that of Marion (male) Stone, born with a conjoined twin (but successfully separated at birth) brother, Shiva. The twins are the product of an illicit union between a surgeon and a nun in an Ethiopian hospital. The nun dies, the surgeon runs away, and the twins are raised by two other doctors working in the hospital. Marion nurtures an inexplicably enduring one-sided love (lust, really) for his nanny's daughter, Genet, who then betrays and hurts him repeatedly in all kinds of ways. Eventually, Marion is forced to leave Ethiopia for America, and in a series of unlikely coincidences, reunites with his biological father, with Genet, and with others he knows from his Ethiopia days who have come over to America.

Although the story got off to a strong start, it kind of petered out and died. One reason for this is that it was very unevenly paced. Some events were told to us in excruciating detail; others, arguably more critical, were quickly summarized and moved past. The book was purported by the blurb to be the story of Shiva and Marion's childhood, Shiva's betrayal of Marion, and Marion's subsequent fleeing to America, but we don't get there for the first 175 pages as the backstory (the surgeon and the nun) is told to us in great detail.

Although the backstory ironically ended up being the strongest part of the book for me, as I read it I kept having the nagging feeling of waiting for the real story to start. Then, once it did, most of Shiva and Marion's childhood was glossed over so that we never really get a sense of their relationship or their individual personalities (Shiva comes across as someone with Asperger's, which I know was at least partially deliberate but also felt like a function of Shiva's not having any sort of graspable personality or logic to his actions). Because I didn't find myself empathizing with either of the brothers or feeling their relationship, when the heavily foreshadowed betrayal finally came, it was actually pretty anticlimactic.

The writing was usually pleasant, occasionally even gripping, but sometimes it veered into the overly florid, and the medical/surgical detail was way, way TMI. Maybe I'd have been interested if that were my thing, but it so isn't.

Lots of people liked this book way better than I did, and it might have worked better for me had it been way, way shorter and eliminated the ridiculous Marion-Genet love story. Unfortunately, many of the book's events hinged on that love story which is part of what killed it for me.
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Reading Progress

11/28/2009 page 116
21.44% "It's been ages since I've read a good literary novel. Bless you, Abe, even if you are a major Stanford medical school professor who writes!"
11/29/2009 page 186
34.38% "Increasingly engrossing. A bit detail-heavy, especially surgical/medical detail (ugh), but starting to move along."
11/30/2009 page 320
59.15% "Getting a little tired of all the male adolescent initiation to sex episodes. Aren't there any other aspects to character maturation?"
12/01/2009 page 380
70.24% "The book started off pretty strong, but now it's really dragging. A book needs to be way better than this one to justify 500+ pages."

Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Eden (new)

Eden Interesting that you say that some of the events were expalined in detail and some were just glossed over. I think that would annoy me. I read the Poisonwood Bible and didnt like it for that exact reason. The first three "books" were all about this one particular year (if I am not mistaken, but in anycase, it was a relatively short period of time) in this family's life in Africa and the last "book" told the story of The Rest of THeir Lives. Like another 20 or so years. It just felt so disjointed for me and really ruined the whole experience. (which I enjoyed during the first three parts). Oh well.

message 2: by K (new) - rated it 2 stars

K Yes -- I remember feeling exactly the same way about "The Poisonwood Bible."

I do think there's an art to knowing what to spell out and what to simply summarize, i.e., not every single thing should be told in full detail (I've never read "Twilight," but a lot of goodreads reviewers complained about the author's excessive and indiscriminate use of detail). But that decision needs to be made carefully; otherwise it reads as if the author simply got tired of telling the story and suddenly zoomed ahead.

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