70 reviews

Cutting for Stone
by Abraham Verghese

Published: 2009-12-01
Paperback : 560 pages
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627 clubs reading this now
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Recommended to book clubs by 64 of 70 members
Marion and Shiva Stone, born in a mission hospital in Ethiopia in the 1950s, are twin sons of an illicit union between an Indian nun and British doctor. Bound by birth but with widely different temperaments they grow up together, in a country on the brink of revolution, until a betrayal splits them ...
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Marion and Shiva Stone, born in a mission hospital in Ethiopia in the 1950s, are twin sons of an illicit union between an Indian nun and British doctor. Bound by birth but with widely different temperaments they grow up together, in a country on the brink of revolution, until a betrayal splits them apart. But fate has not finished with them - they will be brought together once more, in the sterile surroundings of a hospital theatre. From the 1940s to the present, from a convent in India to a cargo ship bound for the Yemen, from a tiny operating theatre in Ethiopia to a hospital in the Bronx, this is both a richly visceral epic and a riveting family story.

Editorial Review

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The Coming
After eight months spent in the obscurity of our motherâ??s womb, my brother, Shiva, and I came into the world in the late afternoon of the twentieth of September in the year of grace 1954. We took our first breaths at an elevation of eight thousand feet in the thin air of Addis Ababa, capital city of Ethiopia. The miracle of our birth took place in Missing Hospitalâ??s Operating Theater 3, the very room where our mother, Sister Mary Joseph Praise, spent most of her working hours, and in which she had been most fulfilled. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

From the publisher:

1. Abraham Verghese has said that his ambition in writing Cutting for Stone was to “tell a great story, an old-fashioned, truth-telling story.” In what ways is Cutting for Stone an old-fashioned story—and what does it share with the great novels of the nineteenth century? What essential human truths does it convey?

2. What does Cutting for Stone reveal about the emotional lives of doctors? Contrast the attitudes of Hema, Ghosh, Marion, Shiva, and Thomas Stone toward their work. What draws each of them to the practice of medicine? How are they affected, emotionally and otherwise, by the work they do?

3. Marion observes that in Ethiopia, patients assume that all illnesses are fatal and that death is expected, but in America, news of having a fatal illness “always seemed to come as a surprise, as if we took it for granted that we were immortal” [p. 486]. What other important differences does Cutting for Stone reveal about the way illness is viewed and treated in Ethiopia and in the United States? To what extent are these differences reflected in the split between poor hospitals, like the one in the Bronx where Marion works, and rich hospitals like the one in Boston where his father works?

4. In the novel, Thomas Stone asks, “What treatment in an emergency is administered by ear?” The correct answer is “Words of comfort.” How does this moment encapsulate the book's surprising take on medicine? Have your experiences with doctors and hospitals held this to be true? Why or why not? What doesCutting for Stone tell us about the roles of compassion, faith, and hope in medicine?
5. There are a number of dramatic scenes on operating tables in Cutting for Stone: the twins' births, Thomas Stone amputating his own finger, Ghosh untwisting Colonel Mebratu's volvulus, the liver transplant, etc. How does Verghese use medical detail to create tension and surprise? What do his depictions of dramatic surgeries share with film and television hospital dramas—and yet how are they different?

6. Marion suffers a series of painful betrayals—by his father, by Shiva, and by Genet. To what degree is he able, by the end of the novel, to forgive them?

7. To what extent does the story of Thomas Stone's childhood soften Marion's judgment of him? How does Thomas's suffering as a child, the illness of his parents, and his own illness help to explain why he abandons Shiva and Marion at their birth? How should Thomas finally be judged?

8. In what important ways does Marion come to resemble his father, although he grows up without him? How does Marion grow and change over the course of the novel?

9. A passionate, unique love affair sets Cutting for Stone in motion, and yet this romance remains a mystery—even to the key players—until the very conclusion of the novel. How does the relationship between Sister Mary Joseph Praise and Thomas Stone affect the lives of Shiva and Marion, Hema and Ghosh, Matron and everyone else at Missing? What do you think Verghese is trying to say about the nature of love and loss?

10. What do Hema, Matron, Rosina, Sister Mary Joseph Praise, Genet, and Tsige—as well as the many women who come to Missing seeking medical treatment—reveal about what life is like for women in Ethiopia?

11. Addis Ababa is at once a cosmopolitan city thrumming with life and the center of a dictatorship rife with conflict. How do the influences of Ethiopia's various rulers—England, Italy, Emperor Selassie—reveal themselves in day-to-day life? How does growing up there affect Marion's and Shiva's worldviews?

12. As Ghosh nears death, Marion comments that the man who raised him had no worries or regrets, that “there was no restitution he needed to make, no moment he failed to seize” [p. 424]. What is the key to Ghosh's contentment? What makes him such a good father, doctor, and teacher? What wisdom does he impart to Marion?

13. Although it's also a play on the surname of the characters, the title Cutting for Stone comes from a line in the Hippocratic Oath: “I will not cut for stone, even for patients in whom the disease is manifest; I will leave this operation to be performed by practitioners, specialists in this art.” Verghese has said that this line comes from ancient times, when bladder stones were epidemic and painful: “There were itinerant stone cutters—lithologists—who could cut into either the bladder or the perineum and get the stone out, but because they cleaned the knife by wiping their blood-stiffened surgical aprons, patients usually died of infection the next day.” How does this line resonate for the doctors in the novel?

14. Almost all of the characters in Cutting for Stone are living in some sort of exile, self-imposed or forced, from their home country—Hema and Ghosh from India, Marion from Ethiopia, Thomas from India and then Ethiopia. Verghese is of Indian descent but was born and raised in Ethiopia, went to medical school in India, and has lived and worked in the United States for many years. What do you think this novel says about exile and the immigrant experience? How does exile change these characters, and what do they find themselves missing the most about home?

Suggested by Members

How do you think things would have been different had Dr. Stone stayed? For each of the characters?
What do you think motivated Shiva?
by rush16001 (see profile) 04/16/13

If you had to leave your house quickly what would you take with you?
If a family member had to leave quickly what would you send with them?
by auntme3 (see profile) 03/24/13

Were you surprised that Thomas Stone was so easily forgiven for abandoning his sons, by Marion, Shiva and Heme and Ghosh
Who was your favorite character
How do you think Marion was able to keep his virginity for so long
by charmaine4 (see profile) 03/11/12

What does the title of the book mean?
by cgolden (see profile) 07/27/11

Follow the chapters in order.
by Kg37wg (see profile) 06/19/11

One person should give background on the author
Why do you think the author wrote this type of book?
Could you imagine this as a movie and who is in the cast?
by elainebutler (see profile) 06/16/11

How does the title relate to the Hippocratic Oath?
by madriver (see profile) 06/14/11

What was the importance of the 'slippers' story that Gosh told Marion?
by AutumnJewel (see profile) 06/02/11

The obvious choice would be to discuss the relationship of twins and the validity of the writers depiction of them (by the way in my opinion, it was right on the mark.
The complex relationship of the twins biological parents;
The depth of the characters. The richness of the story line.
by janannette (see profile) 05/02/11

This novel is about things coming "full circle"--what do we mean by this?
Contrast Dr. Stone with Marion and Shiva
by Mookie (see profile) 04/28/11

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub


“A winner. . . . Filled with mystical scenes and deeply felt characters. . . . Verghese is something of a magician as a novelist.”

—USA Today

“A masterpiece. . . . Not a word is wasted in this larger-than-life saga. . . . Verghese expertly weaves the threads of numerous story lines into one cohesive opus. The writing is graceful, the characters compassionate and the story full of nuggets of wisdom.”

—San Francisco Chronicle

“Lush and exotic. . . . The kind [of novel] Richard Russo or Cormac McCarthy might write. . . . Shows how history and landscape and accidents of birth conspire to create the story of a single life. . . . Verghese creates this story so lovingly that it is actually possible to live within it for the brief time one spends with this book. You may never leave the chair.”

—Los Angeles Times

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Profound, thought-provoking, stays with you.

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