*Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (2009)

I’ll start by quoting Erika Wagner who reviewed this book in the NY Times.  She says, “Verghese’s weakness is the weakness of a writer with too much heart: it’s clear he loves his characters and he just wants to cram in every last fact about them.”  And I agree.  There’s no question that this is a compelling story,  but at times, it just felt like too much–too much drama, too much heartache, too many side stories.  Told from Marion’s point of view, we are immersed in his character and his sometimes overwrought emotions.  It’s not so much what he feels, but rather what he says and how he says it.  A few times I wanted to slap him, tell him to buck up and get over Genet and get over his disappointment in his brother, Shiva (the more interesting character as far as I could tell).  But at other times, I sympathized with him.  The relationship between Marion and Shiva too often reminded me of Kiterunner, the death of their mother and abandonment by their father reminded me too much of Greek tragedy, and the ending reminded me too much of My Sister’s Keeper.  That said, there was lots that I did like about this book.  I was particularly fascinated by the Ethiopian and Eritrean history, the Italian influence, the emperors, the coups.  While I know it wasn’t all historically accurate, I still  found that I learned a great deal, and reading this forced me to look up information and fill in gaps.  I also really liked the medical aspect of the book (which is a good chunk of the text).  I’m not sure the detailed medical information helped much with the flow of the story–in fact, it probably interrupted it fairly often–but I loved gleaning so much information about surgery, gynecology, and internal medicine.  It showed how three facets of medicine are so  different and require vastly different personalities and skill sets.  Perhaps my avid interest stems from a dear friend and a niece who are planning to go into medicine; all I know is that I soaked up those aspects of the story, and I loved seeing the differences (and similarities) between practicing medicine in a third world country and practicing it in a top US hospital.  So for anyone who is interested in Ethiopia, medicine, or dramatic family sagas, you’ll like this book.  It’s long, but a good summer read.  (fiction)

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