Sunday, August 14, 2011

Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese

My husband doesn't care for travel, so early in the summer when he suggested we take a family vacation, he caught my attention.
"What?" I asked.
"I know, you're surprised to hear this from me," he answered. "It's just that Rachel will be going off to college in two years and I realize we may not have many more opportunities to travel together as a family. What about the Outer Banks?"

Although I have fond memories of each of our family trips, they've all been low budget affairs, with three young kids in tow. The thought of another labor intensive vacation exhausted me.
"What's the matter?" asked Charles. "Don't you want to go?"
The truth of the matter was that No, I didn't. I didn't want to spend a week in a rented beach condo shopping, cooking and cleaning. Marital negotiations ensued. Despite my misgivings, I acquiesced. Rental agreements were signed.

Turns out all my misgivings were unfounded. The kids, now teenagers, carried their own gear and picked up after themselves. Charles shopped and cooked. Now that we're back, and have shaken out the sand from our suitcases, all that's left are our memories of boogey boarding, nighttime games of Scattergories and luminous red beach sunsets.

Unfounded misgivings almost cost me precious vacation time with my family, and are also the reason I'm probably the last person around to read Abraham Verghese's "Cutting for Stone." All my reading friends insisted this novel is a must-read, but I couldn't. Not another African story, I thought. They're just so heart wrenching. Inevitably I'm left feeling so powerless. Months passed, with "Cutting for Stone" shuffling, time and time again, to the bottom of my reading pile.

Finally, last month, I held Verghese's book and, not having the heart to bury it one more time, cracked open the spine. It wasn't long before I a goner, my mouth set in an O shape that didn't release until the last page. The lyrical prose, engaging characters and complex, compelling narrative sucked me in. "Cutting for Stone" is an elegant, winding story of twin brothers, Shiva and Marion, born to a nun and the surgeon she has nursed back to health. Verghese, a physician, uses his medical knowledge to add verisimilitude and texture, without overwhelming the story with technical jargon. This is a big scope story, expertly set in time and place, so perfectly rendered that it's hard to find adjectives that do it justice. If you have misgivings, set them aside. You won't be sorry. Like a week at the beach with your family, Verghese's novel will stay with you a long time.

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