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For many years of my life, I wanted to be a doctor. I was aided and abetted by my dad, who gave me a book called Understanding Surgery as a 12th-birthday present, and who through his connections to the American Heart Association, introduced me to Dr. C. Walton Lillehei, the father of open heart surgery. Though my life ultimately took a different turn, I have an abiding interest in science in general and medicine in particular.
This is what led me to Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese, when it was recommended to me on What Should I Read Next?, as part of the Take a Chance Challenge on the Life With Books blog. It's not the kind of book I would typically read, because most of it takes place in Africa, and I very rarely read something set outside the US or Europe -- I'm kind of embarrassed to say that, but that's what I usually read. Cutting for Stone ranges from India to Ethiopia to Eritrea to the United States, and I found particularly interesting the descriptions of the scenery and life in Ethiopia, a country about which I know very little.
Verghese's book is about twin boys, Marion and Shiva, who are born to a nun who's hidden her pregnancy from everyone including the father, a brilliant surgeon. The boys are raised at the hospital where they were born, by neither parent but by a group of dedicated people who love them, their adoptive parents Hema and Ghosh, various nannies and other hospital personnel. The story, told by Marion, follows the boys from their birth through adulthood.
The plot has many twists and turns, and I don't want to say too much about them, but I do want to talk about the book itself -- it is so beautifully written, the language is lush and gorgeous, and I don't know when I've enjoyed a book so much. It's the kind of big novel that makes you go more and more slowly toward the end, because you don't want it to end. It's funny and sad and so richly imagined that it's breathtaking.
And it includes medicine and surgery. A lot of medicine and surgery, in great detail. This may mean that those faint of heart might not enjoy the more graphic passages, and there are more than a few. Dr. Verghese is just that -- a doctor, on the faculty at Stanford University Medical School, and that shows. It makes the book very authentic, in my opinion.
I'm actually recommending the audio version of the book, here, which I listened to on my endless commute back and forth to work. It's 28 hours long, and I loved every single minute of it. The reader, Sunil Malhotra, is wonderful, doing an amazing job with a wide range of accents and characters. If you like audio books, this is a great one. At times I just sat in the car and listened, to finish whatever scene I was on at that moment.
I've written very few fan letters in my reading life -- three, to be exact. There may be a fourth in the works, because I loved this book so much. It's highly recommended.