Cover of Cutting for Stone (Vintage)In Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese we start with an Indian woman, trained as a nun and a nurse, sent by her order to Africa. We know something has gone awry because, as the story opens, she is in labor, it’s not going well, and the surgeon she has worked in tune with for seven years, Dr. Thomas Stone, is so anguished by her distress that he is unable to help her. Sister Mary Joseph Praise dies giving birth to Thomas Stone’s twin boys, Marion and Shiva Praise Stone. The twins are joined by a stem connecting their skulls and must be delivered by Caesarean but Dr. Stone, a great surgeon, cannot bring himself to cut into Sister Mary, even though, and probably because, he loves her. The twins never meet their father, Dr. Stone, because he runs to Kenya, has a nervous breakdown, and ends up in America.
Hema, the Missing Hospital Ob-Gyn (Missing Hospital began life as Mission Hospital, but this is Ethiopia and stuff happens) and Ghosh, another Missing Doctor (who takes the place of Dr. Stone) have been falling in love for a while. They might never have found each other, but the twins fix that. Hema, Ghosh, Shiva and Marion become a family.
What happens to this little family and to the Missing Hospital crew, and to Dr. Thomas Stone is an excellent story and I will not tell it here. You will need to read the book. Both twins do take after their birth parents in that they end up as surgeons, one formally schooled, one not.
This is a family story, although the family is non-traditional. It is also a medical story, a story of surgeons which is where the title comes from (a title with a double meaning, as you will see, “cutting for stone”).
Although most of this novel takes place in Ethiopia and is mostly African in its descriptions, characters and events, it reminds me of a John Irving book in that the characters are a combination of the eccentric and the normal. Shiva/Marion, the twins are both unique and familiar as is the contrast between the stable family life the boys are provided by Hema and Ghosh, and the other, more offbeat details of their parentage and their lives in Ethiopia (and eventually in America).
I loved this story and got very attached to the characters. It is a good old-fashioned novel written in a modern, global world.