Cutting for Stone – Abraham Verghese

Cutting for Stone is a fantastic book! It would easily have made my ‘Best of 2009’ list, had I read it sooner and I’m sure it will be one of my favourite reads of 2010. At 500+ pages, it isn’t a quick read, but it was well worth the investment of time as the story will stay with me for many years.

The book begins in Ethiopia with a nun giving birth to identical twins. The birth is a shock to everyone who worked with her at Missing, a small hospital struggling to cope with limited resources, as no-one even knew she was pregnant. Unfortunately the nun dies, leaving the father of the children a mystery. The book then follows the twins as they grow up, learning the secrets of their parentage and trying to make the most of themselves in a country on the brink of revolution.

The author, Abraham Verghese, is a doctor and this becomes obvious very early on. The book is packed with medical references and the heart of the novel concerns the differences in medical practices around the world. I admit that sometimes the medical references went over my head, but I felt they gave the book an authenticity that only added to my appreciation of it.

This book is massive in scope, both in terms of the time period covered and continents of the globe visited. It gives an insight into life during a difficult period of Ethiopian history, but also reveals the the universal complexities of family relationships.

Cutting for Stone had the rare ability to bring tears to my eyes, a sign that I had completely connected with the characters and actually cared about their fate.

Highly recommended.


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  1. I’ve been exceedingly ambivalent about this book. On one hand, I really want to read it. On the other, I think it might be another one of *those* books that I just won’t appreciate.

    Glad you enjoyed it – the story does sound pretty fantastic!

    1. Jackie says:

      anothercookiecrumbles, I do think this is a book you’d enjoy. It is intelligent, well written and a straight forward (but not predictable) story. I’d love you to give it a try one day.

  2. Kay says:

    My book group is reading this for May I think. I’m hoping it will go over well and not be too long. Sounds like there will be a lot to talk about.

    1. Jackie says:

      Kay, I’m afraid that this is a very long book, but hopefully everyone will love it so much that they wont care. There is so much to discuss – I hope you have a wonderful night talking about it.

  3. diane says:

    Yes, yes, yes….so happy you loved this one Jackie. I’m tempted to buy a copy as I read the library copy. Your review was terrific.

    1. Jackie says:

      diane, I’m glad I didn’t get my copy from the library – this is a book I’ll be lending to as many people as I can! It’s fantatsic!

  4. I’ve got this book out from the library, and have been hearing so many good things about it. I hope to be getting to it a couple of books from now, so your review is building up the anticipation for me. =)

    1. Jackie says:

      Michelle, I really hope that you love it as much as I did. In the beginning I thought it was a very good book, but as it progressed I fell in love with it. It really is an amazing book – enjoy!

  5. JoAnn says:

    This is the one book I regret not reading in 2009. I WILL read cutting for Stone in 2010!

    1. Jackie says:

      JoAnn, I wish I’d read it in 2009 too. I hope you get a copy soon.

  6. Abraham Verghese was recently here in Seattle, and your review makes me wish I’d gone to see him!

    1. Jackie says:

      J.T. I’d grab the chance to go and see him. There was a clip of him talking on the TV book club and he sounded like a very interesting person. Hopefully he’ll come back to Seattle soon.

  7. I loved this book too! I loved the way he made me actually see the bright colors of the flowers and smell and taste the spices of the food (and gave me a TOTAL craving for Indian food!) and feel as if I were standing on the street watching the revolutionary activity. It was definitely in my top five for 2009!

    1. Jackie says:

      rhapsodyinbooks, The descriptions were wonderful! I agree that everything was vivid and I felt as though I was there. I wonder if it will make my top 5 too?

  8. SuziQoregon says:

    Yes I read this (last spring) and yes, I loved it as much as you did. 5 out of 5 stars for me too. I’ve recommended it to many people. I’m so glad to see you liked it too.

    1. Jackie says:

      SuziQoregon, It is great to see so many people enjoying this book. Let’s continue spreading the word about how fantastic it is!

  9. Samantha says:

    Phew – I thought that sex scene may have impacted terribly on your final score of this book!

    1. Jackie says:

      Samantha, LOL! It had a bad effect for about 3 pages, but then I forgot about it. I still think it is weird and wish it wasn’t there, but I’ll forgive him for it as the rest of the book was so good.

  10. This is on my TBR pile, but I don’t know when I’ll get round to it. Your positive review will bump it up the list. I’ve just finished Brixton Beach, about which I had a similar feeling but absolutely loved it, so I expect I’ll enjoy Cutting for Stone too.

    1. Jackie says:

      Annabel, I’ve just started Brixton Beach. I found the first chapter very disturbing. I haven’t got any further yet, but can see how it could be fantastic. I hope you get round to reading this soon.

  11. Rave review, Jackie! I’d love to read this but think I’ll wait for the hype to die down some (all of the TV-not-the-TV-TV again-talk has made me switch off a little). Besides, it will have me craving Ethiopian food!

    May I recommend you add Sweetness in the Belly by Camilla Gibb to your TBR? Also set in Ethiopia with apparently similar themes, I loved it.

    1. Jackie says:

      Claire, I’m afraid I’m a big sucker for hype!

      Sweetness in the Belly is already on my wishlist. I have heard so many wonderful things about it. Hopefully a copy will turn up in my library one day soon.

      1. A copy of this arrived today from Vintage – a complete surprise!

  12. Sandy says:

    I’ve had this book on my list since I first saw the review in EW (in which they gave it an A). Something has been holding me back though. Maybe because it was longish? I don’t know, but it has now moved way up the queue. I love it when you love a book.

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, Please don’t let the length put you off – it is worth every minute of reading time! I hope that you decide to read it soon.

  13. Stephanie says:

    I just got this one in the mail a few weeks ago! It is not generally something I would choose, but after hearing so many great reviews, I wanted to give it a try anyway.

    1. Jackie says:

      Stephanie, I knew that I’d love it the moment I heard about it. I hope that you love it despite your reservations!

  14. WordLily says:

    I definitely enjoyed this one, yep!

    1. Jackie says:

      WordLily, It is great isn’t it?!

  15. caite says:

    Read it last year…liked it very much. Maybe not loved it…but liked it very much.
    If I was home and could access my blog and find my review at the time….

    1. Jackie says:

      caite, Sorry that you didn’t love it. I found your review and you stated that the middle section was the weakest. I agree with you, but I still loved this bit. I think it was needed and helped to explain the history of the country.

  16. Julie says:

    This book was fantastic! I’m glad you enjoyed it so much too! I was talking with my boyfriend last night about how after reading this book I want to go to an Ethiopian restaurant again. We’ve been to one here in Chicago, but there are actually several around town. Thanks for the great review!

    1. Jackie says:

      Julie, I’ve never been to an Ethiopian restaurant before – not sure there are any around here – I’ll have to keep an eye out for one!

  17. I’ve read many raving reviews on this book. I own it, but haven’t gotten around to it yet.

    1. Jackie says:

      A Bookshelf Monstrosity, Put it near the top of your TBR pile – I’m sure you’ll love it!

  18. Alice says:

    I’ve not read Cutting For Stone but I am very intrigued! Did you find the medical jargon off putting at all? I think that would be a reservation for me, I don’t want to be put off from a wonderful plot by technical terms I can’t grasp.

    1. Jackie says:

      Alice, There were a few bits of medical jargon that I didn’t understand, but it was quite easy to ignore them – they only lasted for a paragraph or so. I don’t think that not understanding had any impact on the plot – they simply made the surgical procedures seem more realistic. I guess it is a bit like watching ER – they say all sorts of medical terms, but you can still follow the story.

  19. Nan says:

    I have heard so much about this book. I have got to read it!

    1. Jackie says:

      Nan, I hope you find a copy soon.

  20. Simon S says:

    This is one I have and definitely want to read. I might just wait for the hype to die down. I have another good 8 months to make this possibly get in my best of 2010 list.

    1. Jackie says:

      Simon, I’m sure you’ll love it! I’ll be interested to see if it makes your list!

  21. Beth F says:

    I have this on audio and I don’t know why I keep passing it over for something else. Your review has made me think that I should bump it up a little in the list.

    1. Jackie says:

      Beth, I’m not sure this would work on audio – I guess it is all down to the quality of the narration – I look forward to finding out if it is any good.

  22. softdrink says:

    Glad to hear you recommend this one…I do plan to read it. Someday. It’ll have to be awfully pushy to make it into the line-up any time soon, though.

    1. Jackie says:

      softdrink, I’m sure you’ll love it – I hope that it manages to squeeze itself into your reading schedule soon.

  23. Jenny says:

    You are always reviewing books I wouldn’t normally think of picking up, and then they just sound amazing! I want to read more books set in Africa this year, so this one’s going on the list.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenny, Thanks for the kind words! I can’t the credit for discovering this one though, I’m one of the last to read it! I hope that you enjoy it.

  24. Tracey says:

    Great review Jackie and I agree that it’s definitely worth the investment of time. I’m just over half way through and enjoying it more and more.

    1. Jackie says:

      Tracey, It gets better and better! If you are loving the beginning then I’m sure you’ll love the end even more. I look forward to seeing your review!

  25. Jenners says:

    I haven’t read it … yet. : )

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenners, I hope that you decide to read it soon – it is well worth it!

  26. Wendy says:

    Ah, this one still languishes in my TBR stack – I need to get to it soon, especially since you just awarded it five stars! I have heard nothing negative about this book…looks fantastic!

  27. Kathleen says:

    I have not read it but have had it on my list. After reading your high praise of it I do think it has a rightful place on my TBR!

  28. Matt says:

    I appreciate how the author invests in telling us detailed history of each character. The book is a family saga set in the field of medicine. It is a map of ineluctable destiny of people whose lives are entwined by chance. Once the connection is established, their paths overlap for life. Everything they do—every decision they make, every action they take, and every seed they sow (or not sow), becomes part of their destiny. Not only their actions, but also their omissions, contribute to the events that take place over the next thirty years.

  29. Carol says:

    hi Jackie
    I am so glad that you read this book. It was my fave last year and I have recommended this book to ALL my bookworm friends.May I suggest to you a small book I read written by a Canadian Kim Echlin. It is called The Disappeared I think would be a good rec for book clubs. Hopefully it is available in the UK. Winter Olympics ending today in my city sad day will mis the TV.

  30. po says:

    it was such a great book! it was rich in its history, medical knowledge, and emotions…I loved it so much. It is definitely going to be a story that I’ll remember for a long time!

  31. David says:

    I think I’m a bit late to the party with this one, but I just finished reading it last night. A compelling story which, for the most part, had me completely absorbed, yet I’d have to say I liked rather than loved it. Surprisingly (to me anyway) my favourite aspect of it was the medicine/surgery – many of the characters in the books are great teachers and I suspect Verghese himself is one too. Even when I didn’t understand the jargon (and there were words and phrases in here I was familiar with from years of watching TV medical dramas but until I read this didn’t know what they meant) I thought he described the surgeries so clearly and so well, that I feel almost like I could go out and repair a torn inferior vena cava or perform a vasectomy right now! I also very much enjoyed the middle section where he gave a flavour of the country and the various coups and tensions – I think somewhere in the comments above you mention this as the weakest section, but for me I thought it was the best bit, though I also very much enjoyed Marion’s early days in New York (before half the cast from the Ethiopian section started cropping up!).

    Most of the characters were very well-written too – Marion, Ghosh, Thomas Stone, Matron, Deepak – all of these will stay with me for some time I think. Though I never felt like Hema or Shiva came to life in the way I would have liked. Hema in particular is introduced, in an odd chapter whose tone doesn’t really fit with the rest of the novel, as a (literally) ball-breaking, stereotype-defying sari-clad virago, yet for most of the rest of the book this character seemed absent, replaced by a different, rather blank Hema.

    I also could have done with the novel being more tightly edited – the first section (although it gave room for Verghese to introduce his cast and fill in their backstories) seemed to drag on forever, the action in the operating theatre progressing at a snail’s pace towards an outcome that the prologue had already foreshadowed, and until about page 150 I kept toying with abandoning the book. Another aspect of the novel I had trouble with was the dialogue – Verghese’s prose is elegant but his characters have a tendency to speak in a way that doesn’t always sound natural and I could imagine this being more evident if there is an audiobook version.

    So, a book I’m glad I read and one I enjoyed quite a bit. I can see it connected with you (and many others) a lot more than it did with me, but I certainly don’t regret the week I spent in its company.


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