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A stunning debut novel from the author of My Own Country: an enthralling family saga of Africa and America, fathers and sons, doctors and patients, exile and home.
Marion and Shiva Stone are twin scions 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 shared fascination with medicine, the brothers come of age as Ethiopia hovers on the brink of revolution. Yet it will not be politics, but love—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 work as an intern at an underfunded Bronx 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 father who abandoned him and the brother who betrayed him.
Cutting for Stone—intensely suspenseful, deeply moving, and unexpectedly funny—is both 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.
“Lauded for his sensitive memoir My Own Country, Verghese [now] turns his formidable talents to fiction, mining his own life and experiences in a magnificent, sweeping novel that moves from India to Ethiopia to an inner-city hospital in New York City over decades and generations. During an arduous sea voyage, Sister Mary Joseph Praise, a devout young nun, saves the life of an English doctor bound for Ethiopia, Thomas Stone . . . Seven years later, Sister Praise dies birthing twin boys: Shiva and Marion, the latter narrating his own and his brother’s dramatic, biblical story set against the backdrop of political turmoil in Ethiopia, the hospital compound in which they grow up, and the love story of their adopted parents, both doctors. The boys become doctors as well, and Verghese’s weaving of the practice of medicine into the narrative is fascinating even as the story bobs and weaves with the power of the best 19th-century novels.” —Publishers Weekly (starred, boxed review) (October 27, 2008)
“A marvel of a first novel. Verghese’s generosity of spirit is beautifully embodied in this gripping family saga that brings mid-century Ethiopia to vivid life. The practice of medicine is like a spiritual calling in this book, and the unforgettable people at its center bring passion and nobility–not to mention humor and humility–to the ancient art, while living an unforgettable story of love and betrayal and forgiveness. It’s wonderful.”—Ann Packer
“One of the best novels I’ve read in a long time.”—Robert Bly
“Cutting the Stone is astonishing–the best book I have read in years. Verghese has a profound love and empathy for his characters and an extraordinary ability to bring his readers to worlds they could never imagine. Here at last is an epic–a great yarn of a novel–as ambitious in its reach as if from another century. Fathers, mothers, sons, children, love: what emotion is not examined? So many of us have been operating as if a sweeping narrative were as quaint as the buggy whip, and yet here comes Verghese to turn that assumption inside out. I wept through parts of this novel, as much for how we live lives of blindness, to ourselves and to others, until we are set on a course that cannot be altered, but just lived and then reconsidered. Bravo to Abraham Verghese!”—Marie Brenner, author of Apples & Oranges
“A grand, exquisitely drawn story of twin brothers that ranges from birth to death, and from Ethiopia to America. In Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese shows us with brilliance and passion where healing comes from, and how we move through suffering to embrace life. In the hands of this compassionate doctor/writer, the details are indelible: A wonderful book.”–Samuel Shem, author of The House of God and The Spirit of the Place
“A marvelous novel. To read the first page of Cutting for Stone is to fall hopelessly under the spell of a masterful storyteller; and to try to close the book thereafter is to tear oneself away from the most vivid of dreams. Cutting for Stone is a gorgeous epic tale, suffused with unforgettable grace, humanity and compassion. Verghese breathes such life into his characters that there is a poignant familiarity to them, one that lingers and haunts long after the dream is over. Verghese has once again set the bar and re-defined great medical literature–great literature period–for the rest of us.”—Pauline W. Chen, author of Final Exam
“Prepare to be transported entirely by one of the finest writers of our time. Cutting for Stone by the astonishingly gifted, deeply compassionate writer Abraham Verghese will wrap around you from the very first page and will not let you go.”—Naomi Shihab Nye, author of Habibi
“Abraham Verghese has long been one of my favorite authors. Yet, much as I admire his abundant gifts as both writer and physician, nothing could have prepared me for the great achievement of his first novel. Here is an extraordinary imagination, artfully shaped and forcefully developed, wholly given in service to a human story that is deeply moving, utterly gripping, and, indeed, unforgettable. Cutting for Stone is as noble and dramatic as that ancient practice–medicine–that lies at the heart of this magnificent novel.”—John Burnham Schwartz, author The Commoner and Reservation Road
“Empathy for our frail human condition resonates throughout Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for Stone. By tracing the development of a narrator unlike any other in our literature–from his nearly mythic beginnings in Ethiopia to his immigrant life in contemporary America–Verghese demonstrates that the supreme skill of a physician lies not in his hands but in his heart. No contemporary novelist has written so well about the human body. Cutting for Stone is an amazing and moving achievement which reminds us of the miracle of being alive.”—Tom Grimes, author of A Stone of the Heart
“I finished Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for Stone last night–it’s absolutely fantastic! Holy cow, this book should be a huge success. It has everything: nuns, conjoined twins, civil war, and medicine–I was thinking that if Vikram Seth and Oliver Sacks were to collaborate on a four-hour episode of Grey’s Anatomy set in Africa, they could only hope to come up with something this moving and entertaining. I would love to offer a quote for this. But what sort of quote do you think would be most helpful? Should it be: ‘a luminous exploration of the boundaries between self and other, public duty and private obligation that limns the notion of I-ness . . . etc. etc’? That’s how quotes usually look to me–like they were written by a literary theorist. Help! In any case, all of that is trivial. The main thing is, congratulations to Abraham, he’s written a marvelous novel!”—Mark Salzman
“Cutting for Stone is a tremendous accomplishment. The writing is vivid and thrilling, and the story completely absorbing, with its pregnant Indian nun, demon-ridden British surgeon, Siamese twins orphaned and severed at birth, and narrative strands stretching across four continents. A tale this wild is perilous, but there is not a false step anywhere. Accomplished non-fiction writers do not necessarily make accomplished novelists, but with Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese has become both. This is a novel sure to receive a great amount of critical attention–and attention from readers, too. I feel lucky to have gotten to read it.”—Atul Gawande
“Abraham Verghese has always written with grace, precision and feeling [but] he’s topped himself with Cutting for Stone. . . . A vastly entertaining and enlightening book.”—Tracy Kidder
“Cutting for Stone is nothing short of masterful–a riveting tale of love, medicine, and the complex dynamic of twin brothers. It is beautifully conceived and written. The settings are wonderfully pictorial. There is no doubt in my mind that Cutting for Stone will endure in the permanent literature of our time.”—Richard Selzer, surgeon and author of Letters to a Young Doctor
“The mixture of the generally unfamiliar but colorful venues of northeastern Africa and a distinctly different yet subtly similar part of the Bronx; a cast of complex but thoroughly conceivable characters; an intriguing medical drama of the highest intensity without deviation from scientific truth—in sum—leads to the diagnosis of an exciting novel and the assured prognosis of a memorable read! I’d prescribe Cutting for Stone not just for every surgeon and surgeon-in-training, but for any reader in search of an awesome tale.” —Seymour Schwartz, MD, Distinguished Alumni Professor at the University of Rochester and founding editor of Schwartz’s Principles of Surgery.
“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. 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.
“Dr. Marion Praise Stone, the narrator of Cutting for Stone, [holds] his audience spellbound. Call him a little miracle, a fictional character so richly imagined and situated that neither he nor the book he lives in will ever be forgotten. Verghese’s first novel is a whopper, illuminating the magic and the tragedy of our lives, brimming with wisdom about the human condition. Such fun to read, too–with a huge cast, a sweeping multi-continental plot arc, a zillion lovely moments along the way: sharp descriptions, recurrent jokes, cultural observations and medical asides both witty and profound. (Wait till you get to the vasectomy.) In Cutting for Stone, we get all we were promised and then some. Verghese’s previous two books established [him] as a gifted memoirist, a devoted doctor whose skillful storytelling transformed sad stories into fine reading. Yet these books gave no hint of the incredible imaginative power found in this first novel, a power that recalls contemporary fabulists like Salman Rushdie and John Irving. Like Rushdie, Verghese takes us wholly away to a foreign place, culture and history. Like John Irving, he invents characters whose eccentricities are both mythic and adorable. To these achievements, Verghese adds his ability to dramatize matters of biology, medicine and surgery, allowing him to get to the heart, the brain, [and] the liver as few other writers can.” –Marion Winik, Newsday
“At its best, the first novel from physician Verghese displays the virtues so evident in his bestselling and much-lauded memoirs. He has a knack for well-structured scenes, a passion for medicine and a gift for communicating that passion. He gives readers clear, sensory and intricately detailed description, and he uncovers the unexpected significance of mundane actions and objects.” –John Repp, Cleveland Plain-Dealer
“Verghese creates a saga grand enough for the movies, yet sensitive in its explorations of character, purpose and place. Fascinating in its detailed depiction of the sights and sounds of its Ethiopian setting, the novel holds your attention throughout, for you care about the characters, both male and female, young and old. Plus, Verghese writes beautifully…A great, sweeping novel.” –Anne Morris, Dallas Morning News
“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 (March 5, 2009)
“Engrossing . . . Endearing . . . A passionate, vivid, and informative novel . . . [Verghese] paints a colorful, fact-filled, and loving portrait . . . Verghese is at his best describing the landscape, the genial wisdom of the man who raises [twin brothers Marion and Shiva], the political upheavals that rupture the land he loves, and . . . the medical and surgical challenges that confront this family of doctors. . . . Cutting for Stone is worth reading. Verghese is clearly a compassionate man in love with words and the subject matter to which he applies them.” –Julie Wittes Schlack, The Boston Globe (March 19, 2009)
“Gripping . . . Admirably accessible, Verghese takes every opportunity to make the language of medicine fascinating to the outsider. . . . His novel has more in common with the large, ambitious, action-packed novels of the 19th century than with any more recent models. References to George Eliot’s Middlemarch are layered into the book, perhaps as an indicator of the kind of sweeping social novel Verghese is attempting. What’s most memorable about Cutting for Stone is Verghese’s compassionate authorial generosity toward his characters, particularly in his medical scenes. Verghese’s doctors never forget that they are operating on human beings. . . . Refreshing.” –Laura C. J. Owen, Minneapolis Star Tribune (March 6, 2009)
“Richly entertaining . . . A narrative that ranges as skillfully through the emotional register as it does across time and space . . . In its descriptions of the Ethiopia of Haile Selassie and Mengistu, Cutting for Stone convincingly evokes a place unfamiliar to most readers. But the novel’s defining characteristic, and its most impressive achievement, is its attention to an even more exotic world, that of the operating theatre. . . . The technicalities of surgery are lucidly laid out to achieve a kind of poetry. But Verghese the writer is more interested still in the anatomy of emotion that lies behind and ultimately connects both surgeon and patient. . . . Cutting for Stone honors the extraordinary, complex work of surgeons and physicians, but it also allows us to see them as ordinary men and women.” –David Horspool, The Sunday Times (London) (April 19, 2009)
“[Cutting for Stone,] when in full song, reads peculiarly like fact and will probably win every award going . . . Whispers of V. S. Naipaul and Evelyn Waugh are rustling off the page. . . . A tremendous, compassionate, technically exuberant sprawl through post-colonial Ethiopia via Kenya to the U. S. ‘Post-colonial’ suggests a grudging worthiness from which Cutting for Stone is mercifully free; and to mention Addis Ababa and Nairobi and JFK is as misleading as saying that Dickens wrote about London. This is a big book and, along with Naipaul and Waugh and Dickens, there is also a strong flavour of William Boyd, both in the sense of place and in the way heredity and brotherhood get their grippers into a man and shape the narrative of his life. . . . We can only stand back awestruck at [Verghese’s] energy. . . . In medicine, there are times when one can do nothing. The novelist can always do something. But in both cases, and seldom better exemplified than in Verghese’s lovely book, there is a heart to be uncovered.”
–Michael Bywater, The Independent (UK) (April 3, 2009)
“There are some novels in which everything seems larger than life–the plots are elaborate, there are many characters, each with their own story, the setting teems with activity. In recent years, two good examples of such BIG books are Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner and Leon Uris’s Exodus. Charles Dickens and other 19th century writers are known for their BIG novels. . . . Cutting for Stone [is] an irresistibly readable epic novel that, I think, well qualifies for this group. [It] is a BIG novel, ranging across generations and continents, taking the reader through political upheavals, romantic entanglements, the complexity of being human, and many different surgeries. When I finished reading this, I wanted to take the next flight to Ethiopia because the author made it sound so interesting. Like Afghanistan (Hosseini) and Israel (Uris), Verghese brought the setting of Cutting for Stone to life as a dynamic and three-dimensional character in its own right.” –Nancy Pearl, KUOW NPR (March 23, 2009)
“In Abraham Verghese’s hands, [medicine] becomes something grander: the nucleus of a lifelong, globe-spanning saga of personal discovery and tangled, multifaceted humanity. . . . Rich with metaphorical resonance . . . Vivid, moving, deeply engrossing and richly rewarding.” –K. Ross Hoffman, Philadelphia City Paper (March 18, 2009)
“Riveting . . . [Verghese] begins this entrancing novel with an opening sentence that is so full of implication it’s practically Dickensian. . . . Try to stop reading after that. You probably can’t, which is good because if you did, you’d miss one of the best books to come along in the past year. . . . In Marion, Verghese creates one of the unique voices in recent fiction, someone who sees both the matter-of-fact nature of life and the equally important mystical implications of every event. . . . As Verghese builds his story front-to-back, he also builds his characters in sharply drawn, believable individuals. . . . Fascinating.”
–Greg Langley, The Advocate (Baton Rouge) (March 8, 2009)
“Breathtaking . . . A global story about medicine and family relationships that achieves the literary heights of A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. . . . A masterful read.” –Chris Stuckenschneider, The Missourian (February 22, 2009)
“The admixture of the generally unfamiliar but colorful venues of northeastern Africa and a distinctly different yet subtly similar part of the Bronx; a cast of complex but thoroughly conceivable characters; an intriguing medical drama of the highest intensity without deviation from scientific truth–in sum–leads to the diagnosis of an exciting novel and the assured prognosis of a memorable read! I’d prescribe Cutting for Stone not just for every surgeon and surgeon-in-training, but for any reader in search of an awesome tale.”
–Seymour I. Schwartz, Distinguished Alumni Professor of Surgery, University of Rochester Medical Center, editor-in-chief of Principles of Surgery, and author of Surgical Reflections and Gifted Hands
“[An] astonishing, breath-taking and heartrending human epic about two little boys who become enamored of medicine, but whose paths violently diverge . . . A perfectly pitched, endlessly rewarding symphony of a debut novel. If you have time to read only one novel this year, make it this one.” –Sheila Anne Feeney, Newark Star-Ledger (May 29, 2009)
“Stupendous . . . The best novel to come along so far this year. [Cutting for Stone] doesn’t really belong to any familiar genre. Rather, it has invented its own: the epic medical romance, surgery meets history. [Verghese is] an original talent; a writing that can deliver with both pen and scalpel. . . . Verghese’s eye is acutely diagnostic. Like Tolstoy (the comparison is not completely far-fetched), he spots the symptomatic, involuntary tics and twitches of body language and nails something bigger: the rough force of politics with which the twins Shiva and Marion . . . have to deal as they grow to maturity in embattled Ethiopia. . . . In War and Peace, the field hospital was a place of last resort for Tolstoy’s antagonists to discover the point of the life from which they are about to exit. For Verghese, the hospital is the world itself, laid out in a state of extreme emotional exposure–for Cutting for Stone is also, at its core, a story of erotic upheavals and familial betrayals. Its action takes place within the arc of the two terrifying procedures that form its beginning and end, and in this sense it reaches for the ambitions of Greek tragedy. . . . Beautiful and deeply affecting.” –Simon Schama, Financial Times (May 11, 2009)
“Some of the best passages in [all of Verghese’s books] are those in which he reads the language of the body–its colours and betraying odours, its telltale pulses–and the emotions that obscure and interrupt that language. . . . While I don’t know Verghese personally, I know the streets and shops he evokes, the hospitals; I know that his setting, seemingly so rich and strange, is real. . . . Verghese’s achievement is to make the reader feel there really is something at stake–birth, love, death, war, loyalty. . . . The mythic arises seamlessly from the quotidian . . . You conserve pages because you don’t want [the book] to end.”
–Aida Edemariam, The Guardian (UK) (May 9, 2009)