Once every few years – if you’re lucky – you read a book that you know you’re going to remember all your life, a book that you miss dreadfully now that it’s done, that reaches a part of you you don’t often get to feel, and you like. For me, Cutting for Stone is one of those books.
Maybe it’s because I’m a doctor, and this book is about doctors and patients and medicine. Maybe it’s because I know the author Abraham Verghese, deeply respect his practice of medicine, and found his first book ,My Own Country, an extraordinary story of the early days of the AIDS epidemic in rural America.
But I don’t think so. I think it’s because this is a rich, deeply personal and elegantly told story, dreadfully sad and yet incredibly fulfilling. And the writing, the writing is magical and efficient. Listen to this paragraph, as this infant, perhaps six months old, tells you about his caretaker Rosina, while being held in her arms:
Rosina’s forehead is a ball of chocolate. Her braided hair marches back in neat rows, then flies out in a fringe that reaches her shoulders. She is a bouncing, rocking, and humming being. Her twirls and turns are faster than Ghosh’s. From my dizzy perch her pleated dress makes gorgeous florets, and her pink plastic shoes flash in and out of sight.
Or this one:
I believe in black holes. I believe that as the universe empties into nothingness, past and future will smack together in the last swirl around the drain. I believe this is how Thomas Stone materialized in my life.
You smell and taste and hear this story as much as you see it:
In the lobby I registered coriander, cumin – the familiar scents of Almaz’s kitchen. On the stairs I inhaled the very brand of incense that Hema lit each morning. I heard the faint drone on the second-floor landing of “Suprabhatam” sung by M. S. Subbulakshmi and the sound of a bell being rung, as someone in some other room, in a different direction did their puja.
Follow this family from India to Ethiopa to America and back as the main character is born, raised, educated, experiences love and pain, happiness and anger, satisfaction and grief, and chooses between the “perfection of the life, or of the work.” This is a journey, and these are people, you will remember always.