I should call this post Escape to the Recent Past, since the book is set in almost modern times, opening in the mid 1950's and closing in the late 1970's. Historical fiction? I’m afraid so, although I’ll be happy if you disagree.
I can’t say for sure how this book came to my attention. I was aware of it as a best-seller, a critics’ darling, but had never read an actual review. I knew vaguely that it was about a doctor in Ethiopia. It wasn’t a book I expected to buy.
After reading the first couple of pages, I bought the book.
It wasn’t the premise of the story that hooked me—I was still uncertain about that. It was the writing. I was drawn into the narrator’s exquisite world and wanted to know more about it. It wasn’t long before I became as captivated by the tale as by the prose.
Verghese writes about twin boys, Marion and Shiva Stone, raised in a mission hospital in Ethiopia during a time of great political upheaval and violence. Marion is the primary voice in the novel, a sensitive young man determined to become a physician. He is steady, calm, intelligent, but troubled. There are secrets about his parents that he yearns to uncover. Keeping those secrets are the caring physicians who bring them up, as well as the nuns at the hospital. His brother, the one who should best understand him, somehow does not. Marion and his brother are very alike and yet different in crucial ways that eventually drive them apart. We follow all these characters throughout many years of their lives. We are drawn deep into their relationships and conflicts. And this all takes place at a time of remarkable medical progress in the larger world contrasted with the poverty and warfare in Ethiopia. Cutting for Stone is one of those books that I read too fast because I couldn’t put it down but wish I had spent more time lingering over what it was telling me and how beautifully it was doing the job.