Cutting for Stone

Written by Abraham Verghese
Review by Lisa Ann Verge

Born in 1954 to an Indian Carmelite nun and a promising British surgeon in an Ethiopian hospital, Marion Stone narrates the story of his life and the life of his twin brother, Shiva, in this heartfelt chronicle of a cobbled family of unusual, and unusually talented, doctors.

After their mother’s death in childbirth and their father’s swift abandonment, Marion—or “ShivaMarion,” as he likes to call himself and his brother—comes under the guardianship of the two remaining physicians in the shoestring hospital: A barren Indian obstetrician and the kindhearted internist who adores her. Bound in an annually renewable marriage, they do their best to raise the twins as well as Genet, the illegitimate daughter of one of their servants. Through several waves of political upheaval and the more volcanic instability of adolescence, the three children grow strong and mostly happy—which make later acts of betrayal all the more difficult to fathom. One particular act of terrorism forces Marion to flee the country. He lands an internship in a New York City hospital where fate brings him in contact with his long-missing biological father.

Cutting for Stone is an intensely emotional book written by a man whose reverence for the medical profession and respect for the dedication necessary to master the work shines through. There is a lovely intermingling of cultures—Indian, Ethiopian, Eritrean, Italian—and an unflinching glimpse into the real world of third-world medicine. As is probably inevitable in a story fundamentally about birth, death, and human frailty, there are a few overwrought moments—all the more noticeable against the naked honesty of the writing, and the efforts the writer has made to hew close to the realities of this world. It’s a heartbreakingly lovely world, for all its sickness and troubles, and that, perhaps, is the author’s greatest triumph.