Cutting for Stone

It took over a month for me to finish Cutting for Stone, but it was worth it. Inspiring at times, disconcerting or downright depressing at times, informative and beautifully written, this is definitely a book I’d recommend.

Why did it take so long? I’m not sure. I’ve heard other people say it was a book they couldn’t put down.  I just didn’t have time to do that.  I was very busy with other things while I was reading it. I’m sure the notes I took didn’t help me get through it quickly either. There were just so many great passages that I wanted to make note of. That’s a new habit for me – jotting down things I want to bring up at book club. I think doing so has deepened my appreciation of the books I’m reading as well. 

Set in Ethiopia, we get a sense of the tension left by Italian colonization and interference, and the desire of the Eritreans at that time to regain independence. The author, Abraham Verghese, acknowledged that the historical events weren’t completely accurate, but they are based loosely on real events and certainly give a sense of the historical backdrop of Ethiopia in the mid-twentieth century.

Reading this book also makes the reader aware of social issues in the region. The main characters in this story are doctors, and one medical condition mentioned is obstetric fistula. A fistula occurs when a hole is torn between the birth canal and another organ, and it is generally caused by obstructed labor. It is most common in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, where emergency obstetric care is less available. Imagine girls being married off at a very young age and faced with pregnancy and childbirth when they are hardly more than children themselves. Imagine a mother experiencing complications during labor without easy access to emergency medical care. Imagine suffering a tear in the birth canal that results in a constant leakage of urine. Sorry, I know it’s gross, but it’s a sad reality for many women. With this condition, they are often rejected by their husbands and cast off due to no fault of their own. One character in the story made it his mission to help these women. Here in the real world, we can also help. Check out The Fistula Foundation if you’d like to read more about this issue and/or donate to the Foundation.  Donations go toward surgery to repair the fistula, post-op care, a new dress and bus fare home, restoring health and dignity for women suffering from this condition.   

Another notable aspect of the book is the detailed description of medical procedures. It might not sound interesting when I say it, but it was really quite fascinating. The author is a doctor himself, and he writes about his field so eloquently.

The book explores family, loyalty, betrayal, loss of innocence, courage and cowardice, risk, consequence, the connectedness of twins, honor… really such an interesting book. One theme that really spoke to me was the idea of finding your own place in the world, making your own mark, but accepting yourself and your past fully.

A tale known to African children was conveyed to the reader. A man kept his old battered slippers and was scorned for doing so. Eventually he couldn’t stand to look at them and tried to get rid of them. Every attempt to get rid of his slippers ended in disaster. The story alone didn’t mean a lot to me, but consider it in the following context. Ghosh, young Marion’s father-figure, gave Marion this advice:

The key to your happiness is to own your slippers, own who you are, own how you look, own your family, own the talents you have, and own the ones you don’t. If you keep saying your slippers aren’t yours, then you’ll die searching, you’ll die bitter, always feeling you were promised more. Not only our actions, but also our omissions become our destiny.

Another passage on a similar theme referred to one of Bach’s works, Gloria

No, not Bach’s ‘Gloria.’  Yours!  Your ‘Gloria’ lives within you.  The greatest sin is not finding it, ignoring what God made possible in you.

Good advice, right?  Every one of us is different, with different talents, skills and interests.  We should not strive to be like someone else.  We should discover our own role(s) in this world and do our best at them.  We should own who we are, where we came from and where we want to go.  

What have you read lately?

Check out my book list here and more on the benefits of reading here.


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