The story spans more than 50 years and is told in first person by Marion Stone, eldest of Siamese twins, cut apart during their birth at a mission hospital in Ethiopia. Their mother, a Catholic nurse / nun, dies during the birth. Their father, a surgeon, takes off, shocked and surprised by his assistant’s labor. Their birth is then conducted by Hema, female OB/Gyn specialist, and Ghosh, a physician now turned surgeon due to Stone’s absence.
Hema and Ghosh raise ShivaMarion, as the boys are known, in the midst of their country’s revolution and at the hospital where their mother is idealized and their father demonized. While both boys end up in medicine, Marion finds himself in the US and eventually crosses paths with his father who is now an expert in the field of transplantation.
If last year’s favorite read The Space Between Us rose the top because of its richly layered relationships among women, then Cutting for Stone is its male counterpart. Marion and Shivas’ relationships with each other, with their two fathers and mothers – the ones who raised them and the ones who’s DNA they share – and a young girl raised as their sister, are beautifully crafted, dissected and exposed.
Vergehese is a physician by trade, and while it is clearly evident in the details of the many medical events that serve as narrative milestones, it never gets in the way of a non-clinical reader. However, since I finished it, I have asked several physicians if they’ve read it. I’m eager to hear a physician’s take.
Several themes in the book collide with those of my “real” job in healthcare communications. The shortage of physicians and the huge asset foreign-trained physicians are to American hospitals, the politics of wealthy health systems vs. the crash trauma centers, and risk / reward relationship of live-donor transplantation, to name just a few. As I’m processing this, I see that the overriding theme is the dichotomy of the have’s and the have not’s – whether it be a rich health system, a government funded trauma center or a charity hospital in a remote village of a third-world country. The resources at stake may be money or medicine, physicians or organs.
I must not neglect to mention how much I love the title and the varied meanings it has throughout. As mentioned both in a chapter intro and in the acknowledgment, “I will not cut for stone…” is taken from the classic translation of the Hippocratic Oath. It refers to a time when physicians and surgeons were considered separate professions, and the physician vowed to not treat what would be better treated by a surgeon-specialist.
I’ve seen where Cutting for Stone was at the top of many readers and reviewers favorites from 2009, and after experiencing it for myself, I understand why. This one receives my highest praise.
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