Barbara's Reviews > Cutting for Stone

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
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's review
Jul 18, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: health-medicine
Read in June, 2011

As usual, I will not summarize the plot here, merely comment on my reaction to this book. The essences of the story are many- love/lust, heartbreak and humiliation,the ability to forgive and the trials and tribulations of life and death. It is difficult to know where to start with all of these complex, interwoven themes.

Verghese has undertaken a novel which is very broad and ambitious in scope. His geographic sweep travels from Asia, to Africa, to America, with the major part in Ethiopia. The landscape and the people are portrayed realistically and with clarity. In Addis Ababa, one can clearly envision the poverty and the discrepancies between the classes that existed there. Although the chronology of the political turmoil in Ethiopia is altered for the purposes of the story, it is evident how the populace was efected.

An interesting feature is the title, Cutting for Stone , itself. I spent much time thinking about this through most of my reading. There are references to this term in several areas of the narrative, one most clearly in the latter part of the story. One could conjecture that it alludes to Dr. Stone, a surgeon. The Hippocratic Oath includes, "I will not cut for stone, even for patients in whom the disease is manifest: I will leave this operation to be performed by practitioners, specialists in this art." The practise of "cutting for stone" was also employed at one time to root out mental illness with cranial trephination.

My medical experience served me well while reading. For the most part,Verghese's profession as a physician and author was well blended with his accuracy and extensive descriptions of medical conditions and procedures. Although I found these factors stimulating and enjoyable, I wondered how those less immersed in medicine might react. There were a few occasions where I thought certain surgical procedures strained credibility. In particular, the conjoining of the twins was a half-hearted effort.

The last part of the book seemed to disintegrate with many coincidences occuring. The use of the backstory was also disturbing. Many events seemed to have happened previously so that when the reader becomes fully informed, the information seems belated and less well integrated into the novel.

Despite any negative criticisms I appreciated Verghese's ambitious eforts and enjoyed reading this novel.
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Comments (showing 1-22 of 22) (22 new)

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message 1: by K.D. (new)

K.D. Absolutely You have a medical experience? That's nice.
My first college degree was Medical Technology and I was not able to practice it.

Barbara Yes, I am an RN/ Pediatric Nurse Practitioner. I have been retired for about 5 years, but practised for many, many years.
Why didn't you become a Med Tech?

message 3: by Sue (new) - added it

Sue Thanks for a great review Barb. I guess I'll be able to use some of my OT knowledge when I get to this. I have it on my shelf (along with a lot of others). Sounds good.

Merilee I agree with you, barb. All the medicine rang true, but it did not work as a novel for me. Might have been better as a memoir. as I have posted before, I have really liked the non-fiction of his that I've read.

message 5: by K.D. (new)

K.D. Absolutely B: I did not practice med tech because the pay was not enough to raise a family so I took up another course, business admin, and now I am an I.T. Manager ha ha!

Chrissie What exactly do you think the author meant by the title? What was hismessage?

message 7: by Barbara (last edited Jul 20, 2011 10:09AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Barbara Merilee, what else have you read that he wrote? It would be interesting to compare and contrast his other efforts.

Chrissie, I thought that the meaning of the title was ambiguous. As I stated in my review, it could have been a play on words, using (Dr.) Stone or one of the other meanings. I read in an interview with Verghese, that he hoped the title would "resonate for the reader" and it does have many meanings!

Merilee I can't remember the titles. Articles in the Nyer and Stanford Magazine. I do have another non-fiction book of his at home, as yet unreade. I'll look when I get home.

Barbara Thanks!!

Chrissie Barbara, I wasn't 100% sure either what he wanted to say with the title. But I thought he was saying that no doctor should operate unless it is GOOD FOR THE PATIENT. They should not operate to make their own skill rmore enown. They should not operate if the patient will die anyway, that will only cause more discomfort. The prime factor is what is best for the patient. I loved the humanity of this doctor. I wouldn't mind meeting up with such a doctor...... I remember very clearly pondering this question!

Barbara There is certainly sense in what you surmise, but I still think it was more than that. Apparently many have questioned his meaning for this title.

I agree about the rare combination of humanity and technical/professional skills. In fact, throughout my career and as a patient I have observed what an unique thing this melding of attributes truly is!

Merilee I remember that he said something about the ear being one of the most important organs: for the doctor to whisper encouragement into...Verghese said it more eloquently.

Chrissie Merilee, that was my favorite line in the book! I have it quoted in my review:

I also like the line that was approximately - if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.

It was such lines that really made this a good book for me. You enjoy reading it, not just discovering the path the plot follows.

Merilee That was another great quote, Chrissie! There was lots of interesting stuff about Ethiopia in the book, too.

P.S. Love your doggie pictures.

Chrissie Merilee, meet Oscar. He is a curly coated retriever, a little more than two years old now. Puppy antics are over, thank goodness. But now he likes staring at airplanes . He sits and wags his tail looks at airplanes. This is his newest hobby.

Yes, I loved the lines in the book.

Barbara Chrissie and Merilee, I loved those examples!! So, despite any faults we have found in this book, it had enough to keep us talking and remembering.

Chrissie Barbara, we both gave it four stars!

Barbara Merilee did too!

message 19: by Sue (new) - added it

Sue Sounds like another good one. When will I get to it?

Barbara I know what you mean! Meanwhile, I disposed of several books from my TBR list, but I keep adding new ones! I feel so greedy !

message 21: by Sue (new) - added it

Sue Ditto x 3 or more!!!

Merilee Oscar is lovely, Chrissie. My 9-yr-old Currie is home in a run-around-all-day kennel while we're hiking out West. i feel badly but it's sooo hot out here, and no dogs allowed in National Parks. My daughter works as the kennel most days so it's not too bad.

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