1. Abraham Verghese has said that his ambition in writing
Cutting for Stone was to "tell a great story, an
old-fashioned, truth-telling story." In what ways is
Cutting for Stone an old-fashioned story-and what
does it share with the great novels of the nineteenth century? What
essential human truths does it convey?
2. What does Cutting for Stone reveal about the
emotional lives of doctors? Contrast the attitudes of Hema, Ghosh,
Marion, Shiva, and Thomas Stone toward their work. What draws each
of them to the practice of medicine? How are they affected,
emotionally and otherwise, by the work they do?
3. Marion observes that in Ethiopia, patients assume that
all illnesses are fatal and that death is expected, but in
America, news of having a fatal illness "always seemed to come as a
surprise, as if we took it for granted that we were immortal" (p.
396). What other important differences does Cutting for
Stone reveal about the way illness is viewed and treated
in Ethiopia and in the United States? To what extent are these
differences reflected in the split between poor hospitals, like the
one in the Bronx where Marion works, and rich hospitals like the
one in Boston where his father works?
4. In the novel, Thomas Stone asks, "What treatment in an
emergency is administered by ear?" The correct answer is "Words of
comfort." How does this moment encapsulate the book''s surprising
take on medicine? Have your experiences with doctors and hospitals
held this to be true? Why or why not? What does Cutting for
Stone tell us about the roles of compassion,
faith, and hope in medicine?
5. There are a number of dramatic scenes on operating tables in
Cutting for Stone: the twins'' births,
Thomas Stone amputating his own finger, Ghosh untwisting Colonel
Mebratu''s volvulus, the liver transplant, etc. How does Verghese
use medical detail to create tension and surprise? What do his
depictions of dramatic surgeries share with film and television
hospital dramas - and yet how are they different?
6. Marion suffers a series of painful betrayals - by his father,
by Shiva, and by Genet. To what degree is he able, by the end of
the novel, to forgive them?
7. To what extent does the story of Thomas Stone''s childhood
soften Marion''s judgment of him? How does Thomas''s suffering as a
child, the illness of his parents, and his own illness help to
explain why he abandons Shiva and Marion at their birth? How should
Thomas finally be judged?
8. In what important ways does Marion come to resemble his
father, although he grows up without him? How does Marion grow and
change over the course of the novel?
9. A passionate, unique love affair sets Cutting for
Stone in motion, and yet this romance remains a
mystery - even to the key players - until the very conclusion of
the novel. How does the relationship between Sister Mary Joseph
Praise and Thomas Stone affect the lives of Shiva and Marion, Hema
and Ghosh, Matron and everyone else at Missing? What do you think
Verghese is trying to say about the nature of love and loss?
10. What do Hema, Matron, Rosina, Sister Mary Joseph Praise,
Genet, and Tsige - as well as the many women who come to Missing
seeking medical treatment - reveal about what life is like for
women in Ethiopia?
11. Addis Ababa is at once a cosmopolitan city thrumming with
life and the center of a dictatorship rife with conflict. How do
the influences of Ethiopia''s various rulers - England, Italy,
Emperor Selassie - reveal themselves in day-to-day life? How does
growing up there affect Marion''s and Shiva''s worldviews?
12. As Ghosh nears death, Marion comments that the man who
raised him had no worries or regrets, that "there was no
restitution he needed to make, no moment he failed to seize" (p.
346). What is the key to Ghosh''s contentment? What makes him such
a good father, doctor, and teacher? What wisdom does he impart to
13. Although it''s also a play on the surname of the characters,
the title Cutting for Stone comes from a line in
the Hippocratic Oath: "I will not cut for stone, even for patients
in whom the disease is manifest; I will leave this operation to be
performed by practitioners, specialists in this art." Verghese has
said that this line comes from ancient times, when bladder stones
were epidemic and painful: "There were itinerant stone cutters -
lithologists - who could cut into either the bladder or the
perineum and get the stone out, but because they cleaned the knife
by wiping their blood-stiffened surgical aprons, patients usually
died of infection the next day." How does this line resonate for
the doctors in the novel?
14. Almost all of the characters in Cutting for
Stone are living in some sort of exile, self-imposed or
forced, from their home country - Hema and Ghosh from India, Marion
from Ethiopia, Thomas from India and then Ethiopia. Verghese is of
Indian descent but was born and raised in Ethiopia, went to medical
school in India, and has lived and worked in the United States for
many years. What do you think this novel says about exile and the
immigrant experience? How does exile change these characters, and
what do they find themselves missing the most about home?