Cutting for Stone

By Jack Present

When and Where?

The plot line of Cutting for Stone takes place over two distinct locations and timeframes.

It starts out in Mission, or Missing, Hospital in the 1950s, before and during the childhoods of Marion and Shiva. Missing Hospital is in Addis Ababa, the capitol of Ethiopia. Addis Ababa is incredibly fertile, Missing resembles "a arboretum, or a corner of Kensington Gardens, or Eden before the Fall." (4) This fertility is symbolic of the remarkable birth and survival of conjoined Marion and Shiva. The next distinct setting is in New York City at Our Lady of Perpetual Succor, a dilapidated Catholic hospital: "[its] decorative grille under the eaves had oxidized to a bile green, old corrosion ran down the brick like mascara, parallel to the drainpipes" (385). Comparatively, Our Lady of Perpetual Succor is the opposite of Missing. Missing is responsible for the deliveries of many children while Our Lady sees many young healthy "Good for Parts Only" patients (391). At Missing, Marion and Shiva were separated, while at Our Lady, Marion and Shiva are together again.

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Social Contexts

Verghese's Cutting for Stone exemplifies numerous unique social situations through multiple characters. The most notable being the singular treatment of twins despite being two different people: "Ask The Twins to come inside for dinner. Boys, isn’t it time for your bath? ShivaMarion, do you want spaghetti or injera and wot tonight?" (189). Most people have never experienced being constantly grouped with someone else. Hema's treatment by men at "the Government General Hospital in India [who] had pushed her around, taken her for granted, [and] punished her for being a woman" caused her to lose her temper at the pilot, who just saw her as an object despite her status as a well established O.B.G.Y.N. doctor. This is significant because it exemplifies the way well educated women were treated as less than equal in the 50s. Cutting for Stone highlights how Middle Eastern immigrants are simply dismissed as foreigners based on their appearance: "I’ve seen docs like you come and go. Oh, yeah. From Bombay, Poona, Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Karachi, you name it. Never had one from Africa before. I thought you’d look different" (385). This is relevant because it demonstrates the balance of medical jobs based on race. At Our Lady, all of the doctors are immigrants because all of the U.S. born doctors work at nicer hospitals.

Political Contexts

Cutting for Stone is heavily influenced by the political turmoils of Ethiopia's past and present. Verghese flawlessly integrates the history of Ethiopia, before Marion and Shiva, into the text by a method of balancing explicit information and examining the resulting influence. For example, Verghese writes "Italians under Mussolini invaded Ethiopia from Eritrea in 1935," while later writing, "The Italians had left behind their passion for macchiato and espresso so that every café in Addis served these beverages" (46, 91). Later in the novel, General Mebratu, a former patient of Missing, is revealed to be "plotting some kind of a coup" against Haile Selassie, the current Emperor of Ethiopia. General Mebratu's coup is actually a fictionalized version of a failed coup against the Emperor from 1960.

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Modern Context

Ethiopia's fund misappropriation in Cutting for Stone is similar to the current spending in The Democratic People's Republic of North Korea. The Ethiopian Government in Cutting for Stone, didn't monetarily support Missing, even making them "pay a hefty annual fee for the privilege of serving [Addis Ababa]" (153). While the primary problem faced by Missing "[is] poverty. Money for food, medicines . . . that helps. When we cannot cure or save a life, our patients can at least feel cared for. It should be a basic human right" (157). The citizens of Ethiopia are impoverished while the Emperor drives a "green Rolls-Royce [that is] polished to a mirrorlike finish," this extreme imbalance of wealth is common in monarchies (199). The only present country resembling a monarchy is North Korea. Although it is technically a dictatorship, the power has been passed down from the previous two leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. In North Korea, there are numerous extravagant statues and memorials to honor the previous and current leaders of the state, yet the citizens live in extreme poverty similar to Ethiopia in Cutting for Stone.

Significance to Your Peers

The chapter structure of Cutting for Stone allows the reader to read as much or as little as they like. Each chapter is very unified focusing specifically on one event. Verghese does a great job keeping the book from becoming monotonous. The main event in chapters four through ten is the birth of Marion and Shiva, a very strenuous event, so, Verghese integrates chapters five and six, focusing on the flights of Missing's missing OBGYN doctor as an intermission. Some of the chapters are only five or six pages while some are much longer, but each chapter draws itself to a good stopping point allowing the reader to be able to read a chapter every once in a while. There is not much free time during the senior year of high school, so this book is easy to tie into a a busy schedule. Verghese has the incredible talent of enchanting the reader using exceptionally eloquent writing, for example, when Hema's plane begins to fall, Verghese writes, "Gravity reached its tentacles out and grabbed the silver cylinder with its cantilevered wings". (53) This book is great for preparing for reading portions on standardized tests like the ACT or SAT because it weaves medical jargon, Ethiopian, and Italian words into the text. It may be difficult to get used to, but once you adjust, it greatly prepares you for the dreaded test passages about different cultures.
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Literary Value

Cutting for Stone makes numerous references to other literary works. One of the most apparent connections is Mary Joseph Praise, the mother to Shiva and Marion, is a great example of a Christ figure. When Thomas Stone is in his time of need, she comes and nurses him back to health, a medical miracle, and ultimately acts as a martyr for Shiva and Marion. Shiva's name is a direct reference to the Hindu deity because he was "the last to breathe, a child she had labored over... all but dead until she evoked Lord Shiva's name" (109). Thomas Stone is a vampire character, he violates Praise's vow of celibacy causing both the birth of Marion and Shiva as well as Praise's death. After Praise dies, Stone flees to the U.S. and remains successful as a surgeon.
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“Surgery was the most difficult thing I could imagine. And so I became a surgeon. Thirty years later, I am not known for speed, or daring, or technical genius” (6-7).

Cutting for Stone by, Ethiopian born, Abraham Verghese, Professor for the Theory and Practice of Medicine at Stanford University Medical School, is a story about two twin brothers, Marion and Shiva Stone, who undergo betrayal, separation, and eventually reunite. Their stories educate the reader on the unique history of Ethiopia, racism, and the tribulations of being twins. The title’s meaning slowly changes through the novel. The book shows that sometimes the only thing that heal fix severe family betrayal is the possibility of death.

Cutting for Stone follows the lives of two twin boys from their conjoined birth to their separated, yet connected adulthood. They are both born and raised at Mission, or “Missing,” hospital in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. They begin to develop their differences during their adolescent years. They are eventually separated by betrayal and eventually, the government believes Marion is part of a conspiracy against them, causing him to have to flee the country. They both see success in the medical field, Marion in America and Shiva in Ethiopia. They are eventually reunited in the end.

The title, Cutting for Stone, is from a line in the Hippocratic Oath stating “I will not cut for stone” while discussing bladder stones. In Cutting for Stone the title is a play on, the father of Shiva and Marion, Doctor Thomas Stone’s name. “As a surgeon, Stone was famous for his speed, his courage, his daring, his boldness, his inventiveness, the economy of his movements, and his calmness under duress… But when Sister Mary Joseph Praise ... went into labor, all these qualities vanished.” Because Stone could not perform a much need C-section on Mary Joseph Praise, he attempts to kill the twins. Obviously, they live and Stone flees the hospital in a fit of distress. When the boys grow up to become surgeons, they are cutting for Stone.

Verghese’s writing seamlessly integrates medical jargon and Ethiopian culture, allowing for the reader to learn numerous new words without becoming dense. His methods of description are extremely creative while remaining eloquent, such as when Hema’s plane begins to fall. Instead of simply describing the scenario in its most objective terms, Verghese writes “Gravity reached its tentacles out and grabbed the silver cylinder with its cantilevered wings” (53). Verghese discusses certain Ethiopian trends in music such as the popular song"Tizita" having "no single equivalent English word" (127). Although Verghese is a fantastic writer, the repetitiveness of the surgeries caused certain chapters to become boring. Because of this, Verghese seems to integrate chapters away from the operating room in the midst of a lengthy surgery to maintain the reader's interest.

Cutting for Stone is a fantastic novel about the betrayal, death, and renewal resulting from the lives of two twin brothers. Although some chapters can feel repetitive, Verghese does a great job integrating different chapters to break the repetition of surgery. The cultural and historical knowledge intertwined with the emotional rollercoaster, that is the story of brotherhood between Marion and Shiva, creates a fantastically good read that everyone should experience.

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Other Books Like Cutting for Stone

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The Tennis Partner by Abraham Verghese: A memoir by Verghese, from childhood in Ethiopia to his adult life in the medical field.

Cutting for Stone 60 Second Book Review

Works Cited

Addis Ababa 1960s. Digital image. Ethiopian Review. Ethiopian Review, n.d. Web. 1 May 2016.

Addis Ababa. Digital image. TripAdvisor. TripAdvisor, Sept. 2009. Web. 2 May 2016.

Ethiopian Poverty. Digital image. Y Net News. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 May 2016.

John, Eric. New York City Panorama. Digital image. Kosbit. Kosbit, n.d. Web. 2 May 2016.

Kim Jong Un. Digital image. The Guardian. The Guardian, 26 Sept. 2014. Web. 3 May 2016.

Koningin Juliana En Haile Selassie Tijdens Staatsbezoek. Digital image.Nationaal Archief. Nationaal Archief, n.d. Web. 3 May 2016.

Reading Fast. Digital image. Z.M.E. Science. Z.M.E. Science, Apr. 2016. Web. 3 May 2016.

Verghese, Abraham. Cutting for Stone. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009. Print.