Wednesday, November 9, 2011

World of Words Wednesday - Cutting for Stone (Abraham Varghese)

What can I say about this book that will do it justice? I am not sure if my words will be able to capture the beauty, the wonder 'Cutting for Stone' is. But this is my attempt at it.
Varghese combines his knowledge of the medical world, Ethiopia (it's beauty, it's people, it's history), and his richly portrayed characters to tell one of the best stories I have read. 'Cutting for Stone' tells the story of twin brothers born of Sister Mary Joseph Praise (an Indian nun) and Dr.Thomas Stone(a British surgeon) in Ethiopia. Their birth leaves them parent-less and the two other surgeons at Missing Hospital (Mission mispronounced by localites), Hema and Ghosh , take on the role of parents.
The story is narrated by Marion, the elder twin, and effortlessly moves from telling the story of the birth parents to the twins themselves. As they grow up in a wonderful land filled with turmoil, they along with people around them continue to live their life. The lives of Shiva(the other twin), Marion, Hema, Ghosh, Matron, Genet(Marion's first love), and other characters (all strong and interesting in their own right) are ordinary (in the setting of the story), believable, and at the same time interesting and rich with experiences. The twins grow up with a profound love and natural talent for medicine - nature and nurture both seeming to play a role here. As Marion experiences love, and then betrayal, he is forced to make a decision to move away from life at Missing and move to America. Marion's reactions to America, again, ring true for any immigrant. As the story progresses and Marion seems to meet his past again, it seems like the circle of life is completed.
Each and every character in the book stands on his or her own, portrayed like a person I would meet on the street with fears and flaws and talents - Thomas Stone is a disturbed man and a medical genius, Ghosh is a ocean of calm and love, Hema, Matron and Sister Mary Joseph Praise are all strong characters each with secrets of their own, Marion and Shiva - two units of one being, yet two strong individuals, Genet - whose life is unfortunately turned around because of events, and so many more. Tsige is one other character I liked - she is able to make the best of her situation and better her life as well as others in the process.

I came enriched with a wonderful story without realizing I also learned a whole lot more - some historic facts about India, Ethiopia and America; medical facts and terms; and a mini-dictionary on the side as I made a list of all the new words (excluding the medical terms) I saw :-)

I have not been rating any of my books with stars or any other system, but if I did, I would have had trouble with this, I would have had to create one way above the others. This review goes towards South Asian Book challenge and helps me meet my goal of 10 books for the same!!

Some interesting passages in the book:

1.A mad alchemist, she throws a pinch of this, a fistful of that, then wets her fingers and flings that moisture into the mortar. She pounds with the pestle, the wet, crunchy thunk, thunk soon changes to the sound of stone on stone. Mustard seeds explode in the hot oil. She holds a lid over the pan to fend off the missiles. Rat-a-tat! like hail on a tin roof. She adds the cumin seeds, which sizzle, darken, and crackle. A dry, fragrant smoke chases out the mustard scent. Only then are the onions added, handfuls of them, and now the sound is that of life being spawned in a primordial fire.

2. Rosina took silence as a personal offense, and spoke into empty rooms and chattered into cupboards. Genet, almost six years of age, was showing signs of taking after her mother, telling herself stories about herself in a singsong voice, creating her own mythology.

3. The Arab souks all over Addis were like this, as if they’d come from the same womb. Dangling down from the ceiling, on clothespins attached to a string, were single-use packets of Tide, Bayer aspirin, Chiclets, and paracetamol. They twirled like party decorations. A meat hook hanging from the rafters held squares of newspaper, ready to use as wrapping. A roll of twine hung on another hook. Loose cigarettes sat in a jar on top of the counter, unopened cigarette packs stacked next to them. The shelves were stuffed with matchboxes, bottled sodas, Bic pens, pencil sharpeners, Vicks, Nivea Creme, notebooks, erasers, ink, candles, batteries, Coca-Cola, Fanta, Pepsi, sugar, tea, rice, bread, cooking oil, and much more. Mason jars full of caramela and cookies flanked the counter,

4. “Pray, tell us what’s your favorite number,” Bailey said, no sarcasm in his voice anymore, “since sixty-six is your second favorite?” Shiva jumped up to the board, uninvited, and wrote: 10,213,223. Bailey studied this for a long while, turning a bit red. Then he threw up his hands in a gesture that struck me as very ladylike. “And pray, why would this number interest us?” “The first four numbers are your license plate.” From Mr. Bailey’s expression, I didn’t think he was aware of this. “That’s a coincidence,” Shiva went on. “This number,” Shiva said, tapping on the board with the chalk, getting as excited as Shiva allowed himself to get, “is the only number that describes itself when you read it. ‘One zero, two ones, three twos, and two threes’!” Then my brother laughed in delight, a sound so rare that our class was stunned. He brushed chalk off his hands, sat down, and he was done.
5. Superorganism. A biologist coined that word for our giant African ant colonies, claiming that consciousness and intelligence resided not in the individual ant but in the collective ant mind. The trail of red taillights stretching to the horizon as day broke around us made me think of that term. Order and purpose must reside somewhere other than within each vehicle.
6. “Wasn't that the definition of home? Not where you are from, but where you are wanted” 

For more quotes, you can check:

Wondrous Words Wednesday: 
Kathy over at Bermudaonion's Weblog hosts Wondrous Words Wednesday. If you come across a word (or two) while reading that is new to you and would like to share your new knowledge, then hop over to Kathy's place and link up!

As I have reviewed Cutting for Stone (finally), I picked two more words from my mini-dictionary derived from this book for WWW:

is·che·mi·a (BRIT. is·chae·mi·a) n. [MEDICINE] an inadequate blood supply to an organ or part of the body, esp. the heart muscles. is·che·mic adj. late 19th cent. (denoting the stanching of bleeding): modern Latin, from Greek iskhaimos 'stopping blood', from iskhein 'keep back' + haima 'blood'.

ple·na·ry adj. 1 unqualified; absolute: crusaders were offered a plenary indulgence by the pope. 2 (of a meeting) to be attended by all participants at a conference or assembly, who otherwise meet in smaller groups: a plenary session of the European Parliament. ¦ n. a meeting or session of this type. late Middle English: from late Latin plenarius 'complete', from plenus 'full'.


  1. Two great words there. I did know both of them, I use ischaemia at work, and have attended many plenary sessions, but never thought about the meaning before!

  2. @Louiseischemia was totally new to me. Plenary, I remember reading before but did not think about it for long :)

  3. This book is full of great words! I picked it back up and marked another new word just last night!

  4. Thanks for visiting my blog, I am now following yours :)

    I've wanted to read this book for a while, but now I want to read it even more!

  5. I *loved* this book and I think it's tied with The Road for the best book I've read this decade. Amazing! And Dr. Verghese is a lovely, lovely person. I've met him twice now since Cutting for Stone was published. (I'm kind of smitten with him, truth be told)

    Thanks for the follow--I'm now doing the same on your blog!

  6. @Sam (Tiny Library)Thank you! This book is the best I have read in a while.

  7. @bermudaonionYes, I am sure reading it again will mean discovering more words I missed the first time!

  8. @As the Crowe Flies and ReadsThanks! I have to read 'The Road' now. And lucky you, to have met him in person. As I was reading the book, that was the growing thought in me - to meet him. And he is in Stanford (I live in the area) so maybe will get a chance to meet him.


Love to hear from you! I do read all your comments and do reply whenever I can.. but I will definitely hop on over to visit you...