Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
“We will be judged by what we did to relieve the suffering of our fellow human beings.
He won’t care what doctrines we embrace.”
Spring break took its’ toll on Bookers’ participation this month as we had only 14 gather at the home of Lee Durso to discuss Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. AWOL was co-chair MN Stanky but she is still recovering from knee replacement surgery, so we’ll give her an excused absence this time. Although doing well, she continues to concentrate all her attention on rehabilitation. We’ve all been a little miffed because she has not been reading– probably for the first time since birth – but she informed me that she had downloaded a book on her Kindle based entirely on the recommendation as “one of Amazon’s best…” 50 Shades of Grey by E.L. James described as the first “part of a triple X-trilogy involving sex games and a bondage-loving billionaire.” Some call it a harmless, fantasy-driven fun book, others worry that it depicts violence against women…Stay tuned.
The group was very mannerly and we managed to muddle through in spite of no warm-up to focus our minds on the book at hand, and standing in for MN, was my trusty ‘Ya’ll Hush Paddle,’ which I only had to wave once. Thank you one and all!
Congratulations to Bernie Crudden for winning her third ALTY award for Best Actress in Henderson County Performing Arts Center’s presentation of The Gin Game. She continues to amaze.
Mr. Tucker continues his battle with health issues and is now burdened with a kidney infection and pneumonia. Your continued thoughts and prayers are greatly appreciated by the family.
Lee Durso not only provided her home (with co-host Kay Robinson), led the review of this month’s selection, but prepared Samosas, a stuffed and deep fried snack, which flavored the room with the scents of authentic Indian culture.
How this doctor/author finds time to write and keep his day job as Professor for the Theory and Practice of Medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine and Senior Associate Chair of the Department of Internal Medicine is beyond fathom. Born in 1955 of Indian parents, both teachers in Ethiopia, he began and completed his medical training near Addis Ababa. His education continued in various facilities across the United States, and while at Boston City Hospital he witnessed the early signs of the HIV epidemic. His life took the turn for which he is most well known – the caring for numerous AIDS patients in an era when little could be done – helping them through their early and painful deaths was often the most a physician could do. What he gained was the perspective and insight from the deep relationships he formed and the suffering he witnessed. This was both the basis for his first book and the catalyst for his love of writing. In his practice, he focused on deep-seated empathy for patient suffering knowing both the diagnosis of patients and the attentiveness to them and their families were vital keys in their healing process. These priorities were crystal clear in Cutting for Stone and in his words,” I wanted the reader to see how entering medicine was a passionate quest, a romantic pursuit, a spiritual calling, a privilege yet hazardous undertaking. It’s a view of medicine I don’t think too many young people see in the West because, frankly, in the sterile hallways of modern medical-industrial complexes, where physicians and nurses are hunkered down behind computer monitors, and patients are whisked off here and there for this and that test, that side of medicine gets lost.”
The epic novel unfolds across five decades, spanning across India, Ethiopia, and America incorporating tales of love and betrayal, compassion and redemption, exile and home, wounds that divide, only to heal families. Verghese’s characters are well-drawn, memorable, and distinct, many offering a rare insight into how physicians function within the medical community. The title of the book is not only taken from the original version of the Hippocratic oath…I will not ‘cut for stone’ even for patients in whom the disease is manifest…but the surgeon’s last name…Stone. Very cleaver!Where to begin…identical conjoined twins, Marion and Shiva, are born to a beautiful Indian nun and a brilliant British surgeon at a mission hospital in Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia. The secret love between Sister Mary Joseph Praise and Thomas Stone culminates in her death while giving birth and Thomas Stone’s grief, guilt, and inability to save her drives him to places unknown…only to be found again 400 pages later. Picking up the motherhood and fatherhood pieces are two Indian doctors, Hema and Ghosh, who take on the responsibility of raising the boys by showering them with love and are instrumental in nurturing their interest in medicine. The story, a first-person narration by Marion Praise Stone, details the coming of age of the boys as their homeland hovers on the brink of revolution. Their bond is not torn by the politics of the time, but the ultimate betrayal of one brother to the other. Shiva stakes claim to the love of Marion’s life, Genet, and by sleeping with her, drives a wedge between the twins who once considered themselves one entity – MarionShiva.
It is not until Marion flees his homeland to the United States that he blossoms into maturity as a doctor and a man. He meets his father, takes the first steps at reconciliation, and in order to save his own life, is forced to trust the two men he thought he trusted the least – the father who abandoned him and the brother who betrayed him. In the end, the major themes of the novel reappear – “love and betrayal, forgiveness and self-sacrifice, and the inextricable union of life and death.”
The majority of our group read and liked the book, although it was a challenge at times because of its’ medical detail. The academic aspects versus the imagery and writing skill sometimes clashed – “He pulled out a short length of pale, white, wormlike tissue. I put a mosquito clip here and here…and then I cut between the clips. I removed a two-centimeter segment…” to “ 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. My intent wasn’t to save the world as much as to heal myself…ministering to others will heal our woundedness.”
Life’s analogy comes in a the form of a well known African children’s tale, Abu Kassem, about a miserly Baghdad merchant who had held on to his battered, much repaired pair of slippers even though they were objects of derision. At last, even he couldn’t stomach the sight of them but every attempt to get rid of them resulted in disaster – he tossed them out the window and they landed on the head of a pregnant woman who miscarried…he dropped them into the canal, the slippers choked off the main drain and caused flooding…the lesson from Ghosh, “The key to your happiness is to own your slippers, own who you are, own how you look, own your family, own the talents you have, and own the ones you don’t. If you keep saying your slippers aren’t yours, then you’ll die searching, you’ll die bitter, always feeling you were promised more. Not only our actions, but also our omissions, become our destiny.”
On the business side
I have yet to get a response from Allegra Goodman on our inquiry as to the meaning of the poem in The Cookbook Collector. Maybe it wasn’t as significant as we thought.
Bonnie Magee has sent out a reminder about the food for our Wine & Cheese Evening Meeting. Please follow up with her as soon as possible so she can get this coordinated before she leaves town.
Our group has expressed an interest in adding a bonus Bookers’ meeting in June. We discussed possibly rereading Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns, our first Bookers’ book, or a classic such as Watership Down by Richard Adams, or something by Hemingway. Also mentioned was the Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford, which has been on our recommended reading list. We voted to discuss this at our next meeting and ask that you please send me any suggestions you might have. Marlene and Daryl have discovered a Dallas author, Bobbi Kornblit, who has written her debut novel, Shelter From the Texas Heat. She tells the story of a woman’s emotional journey on a road that could tragically lead to a dead end or to the highway of happiness…it’s a novel about holding onto secrets and the power of friendship to help release them. The book is set in the 60’s and sounds like a good romp around the Dallas skyline. Let me know if anyone reads it…sounds like a fun beach read.
COLOR CODING SYSTEM:
WHITE: LIGHT READ
PINK: MODERATELY CHALLENGING
April 10th: The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
Home of Donna Walter, co-hosted by Charlotte Pechacek
Reviewers: Pat Faherty and Melba Holt
May 1st 5th Annual Wine & Cheese Evening Meeting, 6:00 PM
Home of Melanie Prebis, co-hosted by Linsey Garwacki
Book sharing meeting and discussion
Bonnie Magee, Food czar will coordinate the menu
Note change of date
June 12th: Bonus Bookers meeting to be discussed
Summer read: Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
Home of Marlene Ungarean, co-host Rosemary Farmer
Reviewer: Patty Evans
“Make something beautiful of your life.”
Sister Mary Joseph Praise