Summer Reading Challenge: August 29

Tumultuous events open fascinating novel ‘Cutting for Stone.’

I’m just going to ‘fess up: I fell off the wagon.

This week, I started reading “The Elegance of the Hedgehog” by French writer Muriel Barbery. I chose it, foolishly, because it is short.

I quickly learnt that while it is shorter in words than many books I’ve read in this book-a-week challenge, those words are dense and philosophical, and need to be read at leisure with a reflective mind.

At the best of times, I wouldn’t have the patience for this novel. I suffered through the first ten per cent then — realizing I had only three work days in which to finish it — I gave up.

Because of my failure, I have chosen to review a novel that I read earlier this year, before my challenge. It’s a glorious one, so I hope you will forgive me for breaking my own rules.

This week I’m in Australia for a quick visit to family. That blighted plane trip will give me plenty of time to read the last novel in my Summer Reading Challenge. Stay tuned.

***

Oh my, how this book made me weep. Its epic, life-long scope, narrated by one of the most charming characters I’ve ever met in fiction, is pure magic. Author Abraham Verghese deserves every last accolade he received for this masterpiece. Have I sold you on it yet? Let me go on.

“Cutting For Stone” opens with the birth of twins Marion and Shiva Stone in an Ethiopian hospital. They are the children of two hospital staff members: an Indian nun, Sister Mary Joseph Praise, and a British surgeon, Thomas Stone.

It is not a happy moment. Superficially joined at the head, the twins can’t be born naturally. Sister Mary Joseph Praise has been labouring a full day before she is found, close to death.

It is up to surgeon Stone to deliver his sons, but he fails them inexplicably and terribly.

Saved at the last moment by another doctor, the twins survive. But their mother doesn’t. Their devastated father flees.

This powerful event sets the scene for the entire novel. Told from Marion’s perspective, it follows the twins through their childhood, raised by two other doctors who live and work at Missing Hospital.

The turmoil in the country around them does not often penetrate the walls of the hospital grounds, but when it does, it is personal and tumultuous.

Although the two brothers grow together with an inexplicable connection to one other, they also develop into two very different men. What they share is a passion for medicine. What Marion endures alone is a deep need to know his father, and why he abandoned them.

Author Abraham Verghese, it is immediately clear, is an accomplished physician himself. Like Marion and Shiva, he was born in Ethiopia. His parents were Indian teachers. “Cutting For Stone” is his first novel. Critically acclaimed, it spent longer than two years on the New York Times bestseller list.

And rightly so. From the opening chapter to the final sentence, every little piece of this novel is wonderful.

“Cutting For Stone”, once you’ve read it, will stick with you. Marion Stone holds a special place in my heart, and writing this review brings those fond emotions back to the forefront.

I can’t possibly say anything greater than: please read it. You won’t be sorry.

Sally MacDonald is a reporter at the Cranbrook Daily Townsman