Cutting for Stone
By Jack Present
When and Where?
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.
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.
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.
Significance to Your Peers
“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.
Goodreads Review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1628308484?book_show_action=false
Other Books Like Cutting for Stone
The Tennis Partner by Abraham Verghese: A memoir by Verghese, from childhood in Ethiopia to his adult life in the medical field.
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.