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"Cutting for Stone" by Abraham Verghese

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When you look at Abraham Verghese’s work load and background, you wonder how he could find the time to write a novel. And when the novel turns out to be “Cutting for Stone,” a gripping, larger-than-life family epic, all you can do is sit back in wonder. I do that a lot when I read, particularly when I encounter accomplishments as impressive as this.

What makes “Cutting for Stone” impressive? Dr. Verghese establishes an unspoken, doomed love between a highly skilled surgeon, Dr. Thomas Stone, and a young Carmelite nun, Sister Mary Joseph Praise. Having begun treks in very different circumstances, from very different places, they fall together at a Catholic hospital in Addis Ababa. The love they find is obviously forbidden to both, but Dr. Stone succumbs from time to time to breakdowns, physical and psychological episodes in which he suffers horribly, and from which he emerges with no memory. One of these episodes, during which he is nursed as always by Sister, results in Sister Mary Joseph Praise’s pregnancy. The episode of the birth of the twins Marion and Shiva harrows and frightens us as it completely changes the lives of all involved.

As events flow in the wake of this epochal event, through the thirty-or-so years, Dr. Verghese unfolds for his rapt readers the dramas of betrayal, prejudice, treason, civil war, and death, all from the adoptive family of the twins, caring for the various sick and suffering at the Ethiopian hospital. A prominent teaching physician himself, Dr. Verghese achieves his noblest effect by using detailed medical knowledge as part of the plot, to set up the unforgettable act of sacrifice that forms the climax.

How to describe this work: balanced, epic, sophisticated, heartbreaking, engaging, wise in its observations of human nature. I highly recommend this; it will thoroughly transport you.

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