Wednesday, May 5, 2010

CUTTING FOR STONE by Abraham Verghese

The first 100 or so pages describe the birth of the narrator, Marion Stone, and his twin brother Shiva, at a mission hospital in Addis Adaba, Ethiopia. I know this sounds weird, but this opening section is very fast-paced and grabbed me, even though I knew the outcome. For one thing, the mother is a nun and a nurse, and no one is even aware that she's pregnant. Plus, the twins are conjoined in the womb, so that someone is going to have to perform a Caesarean. The hospital's only OB doctor is having a traumatic experience of her own in an airplane that seems destined to crash. One would assume that the hospital's surgeon would be up to the task, but not so, because he's the twins' horrified father, who basically abandons the scene and flees the country. Hema, the OB doctor, finally arrives, and she and the internist, Ghosh, become the twins' adopted parents. The next several hundred pages could be whittled down to about half their girth, as we are exposed to suicide, mutilation, betrayal, accidental murder, and an attempted coup, bringing about a sense that what goes around comes around. I did find it interesting how Marion and Ghosh are able to diagnose illnesses, such as diabetes and kidney failure, using their sense of smell, just like those cancer-sniffing dogs I've read about. Ultimately, though, I think the book is about love, especially between two brothers whose personalities are not nearly as alike as their DNA. The book wraps up with another medical emergency involving most of the same players that are in the opening scene, except this time they are in a New York City hospital, attempting not just to save a life but also to make medical history.

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