Cutting For Stone

Paperback | January 26, 2010

byAbraham Verghese

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International Bestseller

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.


From the Hardcover edition.

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From the Publisher

International BestsellerA 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, ...

Abraham Verghese is also the author of The Tennis Partner, a New York Times Notable Book, and My Own Country, a National Book Critics Circle finalist. Currently a professor of internal medicine at Stanford University, he has also served on faculties in Iowa, Texas, and Tennessee. A graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, his fiction and essays have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Atlantic Monthly,...

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Cutting For Stone: A Novel
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Format:PaperbackDimensions:688 pages, 7.97 × 5.23 × 1.17 inPublished:January 26, 2010Publisher:Random House of CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0307357783

ISBN - 13:9780307357786

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Reviews

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beautiful! Sad, emotional, a great read. Well-written, this book is a real treasure!!
Date published: 2015-11-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Stone Excllent. Totally absorbing!! loved the character, especially Marion and Hema. Reccomend for any bookclub anywhere
Date published: 2015-09-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I love this book I'm only half way through but what a wonderful book this is. It's so emotional and beautiful, not to mention informative about Ethiopian culture and history. This is definitely one of the best books I have read. It's a very captivating and heart gripping story, and I'm looking forward to reading the rest of it.
Date published: 2015-08-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful I read this book a few years ago as a book club choice and I really enjoyed the story and the story line. A great read.
Date published: 2015-06-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Cutting for Stone A story of love and hate, passion and forgiveness. Of faith and fate. Of family. I could not put this book down.
Date published: 2015-06-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Director The story seeps into your bones so that you feel like you are there with the characters.
Date published: 2014-10-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful A complex journey through a family' a history which is difficult to put down .
Date published: 2014-09-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Cutting for Stone Loved the book!! Sad,loving and heart breaking.Great read.
Date published: 2014-08-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent thought provoking read! Simply put..this book is a journey worth taking. The author has such valuable insight into life and love, that he actually causes you the reader to reflect on your own life, even as you are caught in the story. Well researched and expertly told..I wholeheartedly recommend this book.
Date published: 2014-04-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Cutting for Stone Epic read, epic writer! Medicine 101 as an added bonus! Rich with well-developed characters, moral dilemmas, and thought-provoking "life questions." A very rewarding read.
Date published: 2014-04-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Cutting for Stone: Beautiful! This is one of the most beautiful novels I have ever read! A must read. An absolute treasure and I will definitely read this novel again and again. It is a story of family, faith, the power of love and human spirit..authentic, heart wrenching, exquisite!!
Date published: 2014-01-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Definitely recommended Loved it. Was a little leary about its length, but quickly became engrossed. One of those books you're sad once it's done.
Date published: 2013-12-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A great book club pick! My book club read this book last year and everyone really liked it.
Date published: 2013-12-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Engrossing and intricate Excellent book. It took a bit to get into and then held on to the finish. It was a Book Club choice and enjoyed by our whole group!
Date published: 2013-12-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Cutting for Stone What a wonderful story. Half way through the book and have difficulty closing the book for sleep time. Being a twin myself it brings back memories of a very close bond that has matured and become quite special. The "chemistry" of the growing up of the twins  is captured very well in Cutting for Stone. The story is both entertaining and enlightening. It is a pleasure reading a very well written book. I look forward to the next book written by Verghese.
Date published: 2013-11-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Cutting for Stone A love story on many levels, Cutting for Stone begins with a tragic love story between a surgeon and a nurse, progresses to the love parents have for their children, transitions to love between twin brothers, then first love; and all within the context of love of ones profession as physicians. This is a wonderfully written book - I could not put it down! And, be prepared to shed a few tears.
Date published: 2013-08-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Cutting for Stone Beautifully written. The reader is carried along through the remarkable lives of Marion and Shiva. Filled with interesting history, culture and incredible characters. This is a book you will read more than once.
Date published: 2013-08-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Stone Probably one of the finest books of the decade. And I don't say that lightly. To ignore this would be a crime. I still real that this is available to all those who pretend to practice medicine
Date published: 2013-08-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Cutting for Stone Recommended by a friend - it was a moving book
Date published: 2013-07-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Recommended Good book. It was very well written, but felt drawn out at times. Very informative about specific procedures and events.
Date published: 2013-05-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great book I really enjoyed this book.
Date published: 2013-04-07
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Cutting for stone Well written and a rood story.
Date published: 2013-03-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent! Excellent book! Great for the medically inclined and for those who aren't.
Date published: 2013-02-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A fantastic read!! This is an emotional saga which I could not put down. Twins Marion and Shiva are born conjoined at birth. Their mother dies during childbirth and their father abandons them. Marion and Shiva are separated and raised by Indian doctors who are practicing in a mission hospital in Ethiopia. Verghese spins an amazing story of these twins. This story involves the culture of Ethiopia and India, the medical problems of an African hospital, revolution, and the emotional development and interaction of the twins. Verghese has written an elegant tale which has many many layers and leaves the reader still thinking several days later. I read this for my book club. What a wonderful book to discuss!
Date published: 2012-11-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beautifully written, medically authentic, memorable characters In my rather long life I have read scores of "medical" novels and stories -- creative fiction by doctors, about doctors. One or two helped to reinforce my schoolboy decision 75 years ago to become a doctor myself. Several deserve to be called Literature. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese is literature. Even before I finished reading it, I elevated it to the highest pinnacle among literary works by and about doctors and matters medical. It's an intricately plotted work set mainly in Addis Ababa then in New York about complex, believable characters, doctors who were well trained in Madras or Edinburgh, and found their way to Addis Ababa, where the next generation -- offspring of two characters who disappear early from the scene, one of them dead, but leaving indelible imprints on the narrator and his twin brother - grow up. There are graphic but not stomach-churning accounts of surgical and obstetric procedures, and vivid descriptions of everyday life in the exotic setting of Addis Ababa. It's colourful, gripping, realistic with a hint of magic realism, wise, and beautifully written. Verghese has written short stories and articles for New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, and other magazines, and two previous books, one of which I've read, about his experience with HIV/AIDS in a small Tennesee city when he was young doctor, and saw how this disease exposed the local people's weaknesses and strengths. He is a professor of medicine and medical humanities at Stanford University school of medicine where he teaches students (I envy those students!) and is able to pursue his career as a writer. This is a book to read, to own and reread. It isn't often that a book and its characters continue to haunt my consciousness after I've finished the final chapter. Of course it's the reason some books become classics, the people who inhabit the book really seem to exist. They are multifaceted. Think of Leopold Bloom, Anna and Vronsky, Elizabeth Bennet, Billy Prior, Shakespeare's vividly realized Rosiland, Lear, and a host of others; Charles Dickens's crowded city of all kinds of folk with oddly apt names like Scrooge and Pickwick, recall Huckleberry Finn, and many others who come to life on the page. It's one reason these works are classics. This is another to add to the list. Long after I finished reading it, Sister Mary Joseph Praise, Marion Stone, his twin brother Shiva, Ghosh the dedicated internal medicine specialist turned surgeon, Hema, Genet, and others who inhabit Cutting for Stone, live on in my head. The book ends in high drama close to melodrama and a surgical feat that strains credibility but is nonetheless possible, maybe has even been performed by now; by the time you get to the end you can believe it really happened, feel for the twin who lived and the enigmatic one who did not. That's why I think this book will become a classic; and I hope Abraham Verghese will write more like this one. John M Last, MD, Ottawa, Canada
Date published: 2012-09-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best read of the year! Tell your friends. This book gives you everything. Excellent literary writing and a page turner if a story. As it is written by a well educated author, I found his knowledge of facts about the medical system in Africa and his knowledge of people in general made this the best read I have had in at least the past year. A real page turner - don't give up after 30 pages - keep going.
Date published: 2012-07-19
Rated 2 out of 5 by from okay Although I liked some of the basic story lline, I did not overly care for the author's style and somewhat vulgar descriptions. It also seemed to lag in the middle. Did have some interesting history and relevant issues though.
Date published: 2012-04-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great read A book about power,intimacy,relationships and overall doing the right thing. Ghosh and Hema raise new born twins (Marion, Shiva) as their own. Lots of twists and turns. The story focuses mainly on Marion and his life once he is exiled to America.
Date published: 2012-04-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wow - What a Story I devoured this book - so well written. Loved the characters and learned lots about Ethiopia and even India in the reading!
Date published: 2012-02-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful! I loved everything about this book. The characters are beautifully developed and the story is compelling. One of those books that you don't want to end because you feel so oddly attached to the lovely, flawed characters.
Date published: 2012-02-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Gorgeous Read This is a must read for anyone who likes great read like the "Power of One" by Bryce Courtenay. This book has everything: fantastic, strong, multidimensional characters, interesting information about medical field, the political turmoil of Ethiopia and tight story line.
Date published: 2012-01-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from incredible, a masterpiece...a real author!!!! One of the best books that I have read in years...so much attention to detail, characters so well defined...could not put it down as I felt that I was actually part of the scenery...so vivid was the story... This would make an absolutely beautiful movie. Cannot wait to read the author's other books!!!
Date published: 2011-12-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Cutting For Stone Awesome book! Couldn't put it down. To sum up, it is a book about people, specifically two twin brothers. It follows them through their life, telling a complex and intriguing tale. There aren't any supernatural elements in it and I can see this novel being one that anyone would enjoy.
Date published: 2011-11-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A real page-turner Thoroughly enjoyed this novel. Sweeping family saga, interesting medical insight, as well as an historical account of Ethopian history in the 20th century.
Date published: 2011-09-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing Best book I have read in a long time, maybe even my new favourite. Recommend it to anyone in the medical profession especially.
Date published: 2011-07-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fabulous! Best book I have read in years. Loved every minute of it. Going to check out Verghese's other 2 books. Being an O.R. nurse I loved all the surgical parts of the book. I did not want it to end.
Date published: 2011-07-07
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Cutting for Stone I found this book to be in the same format as other tragic love stories. The forbidden love between the amazing doctor and the nun-nurse has been done in so many other formats that it does get tedious. And of course the sin that cannot be hidden once the babies appear. Thomas Stone is an outstanding surgeon with deep emotional scars from childhood that inhibit him from developing any normal relationship with another human being. Along comes Mary the Nun and she is also scarred but she helps Thomas Stone and dedicates her life to standing by his side while he performs surgery. It is not until her life is ebbed out of her that Thomas comes to realization that he loves Mary beyond all else. Her life is given in the birth of her twin sons, whom Thomas Stone rejects and leaves behind as he tries to run from his grief...due to the death of Mary. The twin boys Marion and Shiva are raised by Hema and Ghosh who worked with Thomas Stone. They consider the boys to be theirs and raise them as a family. Life ensues and living in Ethiopia life is full of conflict and struggles. Marion and Shiva are not left clean in their pursuit of adulthood and education. They both end up as doctors, but so different from each other. The ending is not surprising, tragic as expected, with martyrdom abound. I found the story tedious and I really did not like any of the characters, they all were so unlikable. The medical information was interesting, but not intriguing enough to make this an outstanding read that I was hoping for.
Date published: 2011-06-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from wonderful I am only half way through and can't put it down! Beautifully written! I must get others by the same author as this is a real winner. Now I must go back to my book.
Date published: 2011-06-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from FANTASTIC One of the best books I have read in the last 5 years. Wonderful story, excellent character development and beautifully written. If you enjoy fiction and well written literature, a must read.
Date published: 2011-06-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Couldn't put it down... This book really pulled me in...the characters and the plot development was incredible. The story was so believable and well researched...loved it.
Date published: 2011-04-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Incredibly poignant - loved every page! Sometimes, not often, you find a book that you love so much, you hate to come to the last page. "Cutting For Stone" is just such a book. The story is incredibly touching and well crafted. I am in awe of Mr. Verghese's ability to create characters that will remain with you for a very long time. Heartbreaking and yet heartwarming at the same time, this is for me, one of my favourite books. A definite must read.
Date published: 2011-03-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Not finished it yet ---- but loving it. Anyone interested in medicine, surgery, Africa, India, twins, parents, religion, or life in general, will love this book!
Date published: 2011-03-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing Read I highly recommend this book. You get a sense of the characters inner working and uniqueness. The story is imaginative, entertaining, full of development and rich descriptions inspiring visual images for the reader. Even though I wish the author gave more insight into some of the female characters, particularly Genet or Rosina, the theme of men’s relationship to family, especially between fathers and sons is highly emotional, heartbreaking and redemptive. Of course this is one of many themes that make this book worth reading including colonialism, transformation, forgiveness and home. Beautiful book, with a little patience in the beginning I was gratefully hooked.
Date published: 2011-03-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Simply beautiful Verghese introduces us to Marion and Shiva, twins born in tragic circumstances that follow them the rest of their lives. "Cutting for Stone" is an incredible story of personal discovery, with mystical Ethiopia at heart of the story. The book was a bit on the long side, but strangely, I can't say what part I would have cut out.
Date published: 2011-03-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Gripping and Unforgettable This book was one my book club chose. I had not heard of it before but am delighted I was introduced to it! I enjoyed Abraham Verghese's description of medical issues/procedures and the compassion he gave his characters. I would recommend this to anyone who likes to be taken away to new experiences and settings.
Date published: 2010-09-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Perhaps the Best Book I've read this year. I read this book several months ago, and yet it still stays with. There is so much to the plot - from Ethopia to the USA . It's an amazing story of two twins born and yet so unlike. The character development was fabulous. I could not put this wonderful book down. I can't recommend it enough. It is very readable - I highly recommend this wonderful story.
Date published: 2010-08-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Delicious This is one of the best books I had ever had the pleasure to read. It is very discriptive and only after a couple of pages I'd stop to savor the words I'd just read just like a delicious feast. I found the character developement amazing, the history and story line interesting, a very, very good read.
Date published: 2010-07-19
Rated 1 out of 5 by from what am I missing I only bought this book after reading many, many reviews. I was very disappointed. I thought it would get better but I still couldn't get into it after I was half way through. Did I miss something? The writing was too descriptive and it was hard to follow the many characters that were in the novel. I don't reccommend this book. I wish I had bought it from Chapters so I could return it (it's a Heather's Pick) I wish I could get my money back.
Date published: 2010-03-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A wonderful read!!! This is Abraham Verghese's first novel. I found it to be very interesting as it was about a set of twins born and orphaned in Africa. One twin has to flee his homeland making his way to America. This is a family story about doctors and two very different countries Africa and America. A excellent read!!!
Date published: 2009-09-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One for sharing I have to say that I read a lot of books and this is one of the best. Character development is really what distinguishes this book from others. I am not an emotional person but this book moved me to tears in a couple of chapters. The way that it draws you in to the lives of the characters is its most compelling attribute. The story line is above average; the language is only average; the setting is magnificent. Overall, I recommend it very highly.
Date published: 2009-08-21

Extra Content

Read from the Book

The ComingAfter eight months spent in the obscurity of our mother’s womb, my brother, Shiva, and I came into the world in the late afternoon of the twentieth of September in the year of grace 1954. We took our first breaths at an elevation of eight thousand feet in the thin air of Addis Ababa, capital city of Ethiopia. The miracle of our birth took place in Missing Hospital’s Operating Theater 3, the very room where our mother, Sister Mary Joseph Praise, spent most of her working hours, and in which she had been most fulfilled.When our mother, a nun of the Diocesan Carmelite Order of Madras, unexpectedly went into labor that September morning, the big rain in Ethiopia had ended, its rattle on the corrugated tin roofs of Missing ceasing abruptly like a chatterbox cut off in midsentence. Over night, in that hushed silence, the meskel flowers bloomed, turning the hillsides of Addis Ababa into gold. In the meadows around Missing the sedge won its battle over mud, and a brilliant carpet now swept right up to the paved threshold of the hospital, holding forth the promise of something more substantial than cricket, croquet, or shuttlecock.Missing sat on a verdant rise, the irregular cluster of whitewashed one- and two-story buildings looking as if they were pushed up from the ground in the same geologic rumble that created the Entoto Mountains. Troughlike flower beds, fed by the runoff from the roof gutters, surrounded the squat buildings like a moat. Matron Hirst’s roses overtook the walls, the crimson blooms framing every window and reaching to the roof. So fertile was that loamy soil that Matron — Missing Hospital’s wise and sensible leader — cautioned us against stepping into it barefoot lest we sprout new toes.Five trails flanked by shoulder-high bushes ran away from the main hospital buildings like spokes of a wheel, leading to five thatched-roof bungalows that were all but hidden by copse, by hedgerows, by wild eucalyptus and pine. It was Matron’s intent that Missing resemble an arboretum, or a corner of Kensington Gardens (where, before she came to Africa, she used to walk as a young nun), or Eden before the Fall.Missing was really Mission Hospital, a word that on the Ethiopian tongue came out with a hiss so it sounded like “Missing.” A clerk in the Ministry of Health who was a fresh high-school graduate had typed out the missing hospital on the license, a phonetically correct spelling as far as he was concerned. A reporter for the Ethiopian Herald perpetuated this misspelling. When Matron Hirst had approached the clerk in the ministry to correct this, he pulled out his original typescript. “See for yourself, madam. Quod erat demonstrandum it is Missing,” he said, as if he’d proved Pythagoras’s theorem, the sun’s central position in the solar system, the roundness of the earth, and Missing’s precise location at its imagined corner. And so Missing it was. Not a cry or a groan escaped from Sister Mary Joseph Praise while in the throes of her cataclysmic labor. But just beyond the swinging door in the room adjoining Operating Theater 3, the oversize autoclave (donated by the Lutheran church in Zurich) bellowed and wept for my mother while its scalding steam sterilized the surgical instruments and towels that would be used on her. After all, it was in the corner of the autoclave room, right next to that stainless-steel behemoth, that my mother kept a sanctuary for herself during the seven years she spent at Missing before our rude arrival. Her one-piece desk-and-chair, rescued from a defunct mission school, and bearing the gouged frustration of many a pupil, faced the wall. Her white cardigan, which I am told she often slipped over her shoulders when she was between operations, lay over the back of the chair.On the plaster above the desk my mother had tacked up a calendar print of Bernini’s famous sculpture of St. Teresa of Avila. The figure of St. Teresa lies limp, as if in a faint, her lips parted in ecstasy, her eyes unfocused, lids half closed. On either side of her, a voyeuristic chorus peers down from the prie-dieux. With a faint smile and a body more muscular than befits his youthful face, a boy angel stands over the saintly, voluptuous sister. The fingertips of his left hand lift the edge of the cloth covering her bosom. In his right hand he holds an arrow as delicately as a violinist holds a bow.Why this picture? Why St. Teresa, Mother?As a little boy of four, I took myself away to this windowless room to study the image. Courage alone could not get me past that heavy door, but my sense that she was there, my obsession to know the nun who was my mother, gave me strength. I sat next to the autoclave which rumbled and hissed like a waking dragon, as if the hammering of my heart had roused the beast. Gradually, as I sat at my mother’s desk, a peace would come over me, a sense of communion with her. I learned later that no one had dared remove her cardigan from where it sat draped on the chair. It was a sacred object. But for a four-yearold, everything is sacred and ordinary. I pulled that Cuticura-scented garment around my shoulders. I rimmed the dried-out inkpot with my nail, tracing a path her fingers had taken. Gazing up at the calendar print just as she must have while sitting there in that windowless room, I was transfixed by that image. Years later, I learned that St. Teresa’s recurrent vision of the angel was called the transverberation, which the dictionary said was the soul “inflamed” by the love of God, and the heart “pierced” by divine love; the metaphors of her faith were also the metaphors of medicine. At four years of age, I didn’t need words like “transverberation” to feel reverence for that image. Without photographs of her to go by, I couldn’t help but imagine that the woman in the picture was my mother, threatened and about to be ravished by the spear-wielding boy-angel. “When are you coming, Mama?” I would ask, my small voice echoing off the cold tile. When are you coming?I would whisper my answer: “By God!” That was all I had to go by: Dr. Ghosh’s declaration the time I’d first wandered in there and he’d come looking for me and had stared at the picture of St. Teresa over my shoulders; he lifted me in his strong arms and said in that voice of his that was every bit a match for the autoclave: “She is CUM-MING, by God!”Forty-six and four years have passed since my birth, and miraculously I have the opportunity to return to that room. I find I am too large for that chair now, and the cardigan sits atop my shoulders like the lace amice of a priest. But chair, cardigan, and calendar print of transverberation are still there. I, Marion Stone, have changed, but little else has. Being in that unaltered room propels a thumbing back through time and memory. The unfading print of Bernini’s statue of St. Teresa (now framed and under glass to preserve what my mother tacked up) seems to demand this. I am forced to render some order to the events of my life, to say it began here, and then because of this, that happened, and this is how the end connects to the beginning, and so here I am.We come unbidden into this life, and if we are lucky we find a purpose beyond starvation, misery, and early death which, lest we forget, is the common lot. I grew up and I found my purpose and it was to become a physician. My intent wasn’t to save the world as much as to heal myself.Few doctors will admit this, certainly not young ones, but subconsciously, in entering the profession, we must believe that ministering to others will heal our woundedness. And it can. But it can also deepen the wound.I chose the specialty of surgery because of Matron, that steady presence during my boyhood and adolescence. “What is the hardest thing you can possibly do?” she said when I went to her for advice on the darkest day of the first half of my life. I squirmed. How easily Matron probed the gap between ambition and expediency. “Why must I do what is hardest?”“Because, Marion, you are an instrument of God. Don’t leave the instrument sitting in its case, my son. Play! Leave no part of your instrument unexplored. Why settle for ‘Three Blind Mice’ when you can play the ‘Gloria’?”How unfair of Matron to evoke that soaring chorale which always made me feel that I stood with every mortal creature looking up to the heavens in dumb wonder. She understood my unformed character. “But, Matron, I can’t dream of playing Bach, the ‘Gloria’ . . . ,” I said under my breath. I’d never played a string or wind instrument. I couldn’t read music.“No, Marion,” she said, her gaze soft, reaching for me, her gnarled hands rough on my cheeks. “No, not Bach’s ‘Gloria.’ Yours! Your ‘Gloria’ lives within you. The greatest sin is not finding it, ignoring what God made possible in you.”I was temperamentally better suited to a cognitive discipline, to an introspective field—internal medicine, or perhaps psychiatry. The sight of the operating theater made me sweat. The idea of holding a scalpel caused coils to form in my belly. (It still does.) Surgery was the most difficult thing I could imagine.And so I became a surgeon.Thirty years later, I am not known for speed, or daring, or technical genius. Call me steady, call me plodding; say I adopt the style and technique that suits the patient and the particular situation and I’ll consider that high praise. I take heart from my fellow physicians who come to me when they themselves must suffer the knife. They know that Marion Stone will be as involved after the surgery as before and during. They know I have no use for surgical aphorisms such as “When in doubt, cut it out” or “Why wait when you can operate” other than for how reliably they reveal the shallowest intellects in our field. My father, for whose skills as a surgeon I have the deepest respect, says, “The operation with the best outcome is the one you decide not to do.” Knowing when not to operate, knowing when I am in over my head, knowing when to call for the assistance of a surgeon of my father’s caliber—that kind of talent, that kind of “brilliance,” goes unheralded.On one occasion with a patient in grave peril, I begged my father to operate. He stood silent at the bedside, his fingers lingering on the patient’s pulse long after he had registered the heart rate, as if he needed the touch of skin, the thready signal in the radial artery to catalyze his decision. In his taut expression I saw complete concentration. I imagined I could see the cogs turning in his head; I imagined I saw the shimmer of tears in his eyes. With utmost care he weighed one option against another. At last, he shook his head, and turned away.I followed. “Dr. Stone,” I said, using his title though I longed to cry out, Father! “An operation is his only chance,” I said. In my heart I knew the chance was infinitesimally small, and the first whiff of anesthesia might end it all. My father put his hand on my shoulder. He spoke to me gently, as if to a junior colleague rather than his son. “Marion, remember the Eleventh Commandment,” he said. “Thou shall not operate on the day of a patient’s death.”I remember his words on full-moon nights in Addis Ababa when knives are flashing and rocks and bullets are flying, and when I feel as if I am standing in an abattoir and not in Operating Theater 3, my skin flecked with the grist and blood of strangers. I remember. But you don’t always know the answers before you operate. One operates in the now. Later, the retrospectoscope, that handy tool of the wags and pundits, the conveners of the farce we call M&M — morbidity and mortality conference — will pronounce your decision right or wrong. Life, too, is like that. You live it forward, but understand it backward. It is only when you stop and look to the rear that you see the corpse caught under your wheel.Now, in my fiftieth year, I venerate the sight of the abdomen or chest laid open. I’m ashamed of our human capacity to hurt and maim one another, to desecrate the body. Yet it allows me to see the cabalistic harmony of heart peeking out behind lung, of liver and spleen consulting each other under the dome of the diaphragm — these things leave me speechless. My fingers “run the bowel” looking for holes that a blade or bullet might have created, coil after glistening coil, twenty-three feet of it compacted into such a small space. The gut that has slithered past my fingers like this in the African night would by now reach the Cape of Good Hope, and I have yet to see the serpent’s head. But I do see the ordinary miracles under skin and rib and muscle, visions concealed from their owner. Is there a greater privilege on earth?At such moments I remember to thank my twin brother, Shiva — Dr. Shiva Praise Stone — to seek him out, to find his reflection in the glass panel that separates the two operating theaters, and to nod my thanks because he allows me to be what I am today. A surgeon. According to Shiva, life is in the end about fixing holes. Shiva didn’t speak in metaphors. Fixing holes is precisely what he did. Still, it’s an apt metaphor for our profession. But there’s another kind of hole, and that is the wound that divides family. Sometimes this wound occurs at the moment of birth, sometimes it happens later. We are all fixing what is broken. It is the task of a lifetime. We’ll leave much unfinished for the next generation.Born in Africa, living in exile in America, then returning at last to Africa, I am proof that geography is destiny. Destiny has brought me back to the precise coordinates of my birth, to the very same operating theater where I was born. My gloved hands share the space above the table in Operating Theater 3 that my mother and father’s hands once occupied.Some nights the crickets cry zaa-zee, zaa-zee, thousands of them drowning out the coughs and grunts of the hyenas in the hillsides. Suddenly, nature turns quiet. It is as if roll call is over and it is time now in the darkness to find your mate and retreat. In the ensuing vacuum of silence, I hear the high-pitched humming of the stars and I feel exultant, thankful for my insignificant place in the galaxy. It is at such times that I feel my indebtedness to Shiva.Twin brothers, we slept in the same bed till our teens, our heads touching, our legs and torsos angled away. We outgrew that intimacy, but I still long for it, for the proximity of his skull. When I wake to the gift of yet another sunrise, my first thought is to rouse him and say, I owe you the sight of morning.What I owe Shiva most is this: to tell the story. It is one my mother, Sister Mary Joseph Praise, did not reveal and my fearless father, Thomas Stone, ran from, and which I had to piece together. Only the telling can heal the rift that separates my brother and me. Yes, I have infinite faith in the craft of surgery, but no surgeon can heal the kind of wound that divides two brothers. Where silk and steel fail, story must succeed. To begin at the beginning . . .From the Hardcover edition.

Bookclub Guide

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 Marion?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?