"A house without books is like a room without windows." -Horace Mann

Friday, February 4, 2011

Cutting for Stone

by Abraham Verghese

This book is not for the faint of heart.  But it is full of heart, blood, bone and sinew.  I haven't even finished it yet, but I know its a good one.

You see, I started to read it a few weeks ago and was so excited to find out that my mother had never heard of it.  I knew she'd like it because its all about doctors and the medical profession, which is what she loves and does so well.  Shortly after I gave her the recommendation, we went on a trip to visit my sisters.  She hadn't found time to get a new book from the library, so I said she could start reading my copy.  We passed it back and forth all week, careful to mark each others spots, and then she graciously left me the copy to finish.  A few days later, I took her to lunch for her birthday and asked what she planned to do, or what she wanted.  She said it had been a stressful week and all she wanted to do was go home, lay on the couch and read all afternoon. So, I gave her the book back as a present.  She not only finished it in a few days, she is also now reading it aloud to my father, one of our long held family traditions. I wish I could be there and listen.  She said it was the best present she's gotten in a long time.

But, back to the book.  The story is about two boys who grow up in Ethiopia, born in mysterious and horrific circumstances to a nun who serves as a nurse at a small hospital outside of Addis Abba.  The presumed father, Dr. Thomas Stone, flees after their birth.  Political and family challenges separate many of the characters and then bring them back together.  It is a narrative about things broken, and things mended - body, soul and family.   

As I said, a book not for the faint of heart.  The political turmoil which the book is set within is full of violence.  The medical descriptions and procedures are outlined in graphic detail.  As my mother confirmed, medical personnel often are the most vulgar when referring to the human body and its processes, and this is not glossed over in the book.  But my mother said that it is one of the most profound books she has read recently and also one of the most honest in presenting what medical school, doctors, and jobs are really like.  She said it reminded her of early internships and her first jobs at the state mental hospital and some of the large hospitals.  So none of it bothered her.  The reason these things don't both me in this sort of book is because they fit the topic, they are necessary and even crucial to the story.  You know they are not just thrown in to shock or disturb the reader, just for the sake of shock value itself.

I am champing at the bit to get my book back because after only reading the first quarter of the book, I find myself often thinking of the characters and what will happen next.  If that's not a good indicator of an excellent read, then I don't know what is.

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