A sweeping, emotionally riveting first novel—an enthralling family saga of Africa and America, doctors and patients, exile and home.
Marion and Shiva Stone are twin brothers born of a secret union between a beautiful Indian nun and a brash British surgeon at a mission hospital in Addis Ababa. Orphaned by their mother’s death in childbirth and their father’s disappearance, bound together by a preternatural connection and a shared fascination with medicine, the twins come of age as Ethiopia hovers on the brink of revolution. Yet it will be love, not politics—their passion for the same woman—that will tear them apart and force Marion, fresh out of medical school, to flee his homeland. He makes his way to America, finding refuge in his work as an intern at an underfunded, overcrowded New York City hospital. When the past catches up to him—nearly destroying him—Marion must entrust his life to the two men he thought he trusted least in the world: the surgeon father who abandoned him and the brother who betrayed him.
An unforgettable journey into one man’s remarkable life, and an epic story about the power, intimacy, and curious beauty of the work of healing others.
“Abraham Verghese is a doctor, an accomplished memoirist and, as he proves in Cutting for Stone, something of a magician as a novelist. This sprawling, 50-year epic begins with a touch of alchemy: the birth of conjoined twins to an Indian nun in an Ethiopian hospital in 1954. The likely father, a British surgeon, flees upon the mother’s death, and the (now separated) baby boys are adopted by a loving Indian couple who run the hospital. Filled with mystical scenes and deeply felt characters–and opening a fascinating window onto the Third World–Cutting for Stone is an underdog and a winner. Shades of Slumdog Millionaire.”
–Jocelyn McClurg, USA Today
“A novel set in Africa bears a heavy burden. The author must bring the continent home to help the reader sit in a chair and imagine vast, ancient, sorrowful, beautiful Africa. In the last decade I’ve read books narrated by characters homesick for Africa; books by or about child soldiers; books about politics; books full of splintering history. Cutting for Stone is the first straightforward novel set in and largely about Africa that I’ve read in a good long time–the kind Richard Russo or Cormac McCarthy might write, the kind that shows how history and landscape and accidents of birth and death conspire to create the story of a single life. Perhaps it is because the narrator is a doctor that you know there will be pain, healing, distance, perspective and a phoenix rising from the ashes of human error. Marion Stone reconstructs his half-century with a child’s wonder . . . Verghese knows that beauty is the best way to draw us in . . . The landscape and the characters who live and work [at Missing Hospital] create something greater than a community, more like an organism. The intimacy of the twins . . . the ghostly purity of their mother and the daily rhythms of the hospital create an inhabitable, safe place, on and off the page. In lesser hands, melodrama would be irresistible . . . but Verghese has created characters with integrity that will not be shattered by any event. . . . Verghese makes the point in his gentle way that violence begets violence; that fanaticism is born from pain. . . . Cutting for Stone owes its goodness to something greater than plot. It would not be possible to give away the story by simply telling you what happens. Verghese creates this story so lovingly that it is actually possible to live within it for the brief time one spends with this book. You may never leave the chair. . . Lush and exotic . . . richly written.”
–Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times
“Any doubts you might harbor about a 534-page first novel by a physician in his 50s will be allayed in the first few pages of this marvelous book. Abraham Verghese has written two graceful memoirs, but Cutting for Stone, his wildly imaginative fictional debut, is looser, bigger, even better. The narrative begins as a nun of staff at a charity hospital in Ethiopia dies giving birth to twin boys. No one on staff had known she was pregnant, least of all her surgeon lover, who promptly decamps. Just when you think you’re holding a grim epic of abandonment, Verghese changes keys, launching a buoyant tale of family happiness. [The] newborns are adopted by Hema, the hospital’s gynecologist, and her physician husband Ghosh. Introduced as a cheerful buffoon, Ghosh emerges as Verghese’s most achingly soulful creation, man as wise as he is tender. Verghese has the rare gift of showing his characters in different lights as the story evolves, from tragedy to comedy to melodrama, with an ending that is part Dickens, part Grey’s Anatomy. The novel works as a family saga, but it is also something more, a lovely ode to the medical profession. Verghese can write about the repair of a twisted bowel with the precision and poetry usually reserved for love scenes. The doctor in him sees the luminous beauty of the physician’s calling; the artist recognizes that there remain wounds no surgeon can men. ‘Where silk and steel fail, story must succeed,’ Marion muses. This one does.”
–Jennifer Reese, Entertainment Weekly; Grade: A
“An epic tale about love, abandonment, betrayal and redemption, Verghese’s first novel is a masterpiece of traditional storytelling. Not a word is wasted in this larger-than-life saga that spans three countries and six decades. . . . So adept at keeping his readers engaged, Verghese (a doctor himself, as well as a professor at Stanford) is able to relate technically detailed accounts of medical procedures without ever slowing the pace of the narrative. Detail, in fact, is Verghese’s forte. Every character has a history–and Verghese expertly weaves the threads of numerous story lines into one cohesive opus. The writing is graceful, the characters compassionate and the story full of nuggets of wisdom. Verghese’s august talent for storytelling is apparent in the dramatic arc of every chapter, but it is his handling of the human condition, of sins and salvation, of flaws and forgiveness, that makes this work particularly moving. From [Marion and Shiva Stone’s] dramatic upbringing in a politically unstable nation to their heartbreaks and humiliations, Verghese’s prose is teeming with memorable dialogue and description. Marion’s arrival in New York City captures the wonderment of an immigrant . . . Although Verghese’s nonfiction works exemplify the sensitivity and awareness evident in Cutting for Stone, neither achieves the depth or breadth of this fictional tour de force. With all the traits of a great 19th century novel–a personal and intense narrative with coincidences and an unexpected denouement–Cutting for Stone is destined for success.”
–Meghan Ward, San Francisco Chronicle
“Blood is thicker than water, and more copious, in this expansive novel about identical twin boys born in Addis Ababa in 1954 and instantly orphaned–their mother dies, their father flees. Raised by doctors at the hospital, Shiva and Marion soon begin practicing medicine themselves, but their lives unhappily diverge. The twins have a telepathic connection, and Marion, the narrator, believes he can recall their relationship in the womb. Verghese, a doctor, has an affinity for unstinting detail and unscientific intuition. The exhaustive gore of the medical procedures is matched by a poetic perception of the outside world–arriving in New York, Marion misses