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Saturday, July 10, 2010

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

Reviews for this book on are great.  It's a longer book at about 700 pages.  But, I'm convinced this is a modern-day classic, right up there with The Poisonwood Bible, etc.   Perhaps it is the author's own multi-cultural background that makes this book so real.  At the same time, there are faint hints of spirituality infused by the varying religions and beliefs of the characters.  The author Abraham Verghese is of Indian descent, but was raised in Ethiopia.  He previously wrote a memoir about his time as a doctor in Eastern Tennessee during the early years of the AIDS epidemic when there were very little resources for treatment.  He's a professor of medicine at Stanford, and also has a masters in fine arts and went to the Iowa Writers Workshop.  And all these disparate parts of him come to bear in this epic novel that begins in a mission hospital in Addis Ababa, staffed by Indian doctors, indispensable locals, and formidable nuns.  Born into this environment are twins; Marion and Shiva, who although almost one body and soul, are also very different.  Marion is the main voice and you will strongly identify with him.  Shiva is akin to his namesake, a bit mystical, a dancer, with a mark on his head.  Shiva is seemingly a bit aloof but all compassion when need arises.  As you read this book, you'll be swirled along through decades and political regimes, and lots and lots of medical procedures.  You see, Ghosh and Hema, the two Indian doctors who are the lifeblood of this microcosm, are doctors who rise to every occasion, and teach as they go, because they must.  Resources are so low, that Ghosh must teach another doctor how to do vasectomies, so he can have his own done.  I am not fond of surgery, or blood or sickness, and that speaks to the power of this book to keep me reading.  In this volatile country, Missing Hospital becomes an oasis of family and love, a lifeboat that many cling to.  No one element is overdone, in my opinion.  The third-world airline flights, the clinical rigor of medical school, , it all became so vivid.  I learned a lot of history along the way too.  Who knew that Eritrea had such Italian influence, or that Haile Selassie was such a small man?  I listened to this book through a free library download and the slightly clipped British/Indian accents really made it come alive.   I kept thinking that if I were medically inclined, this would be even better, but it didn't detract from the book for me, as the teachings were often sprinkled with humor.   A great gift for anyone medically inclined, and an amazing tour de force for this author.

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