Wednesday, February 25, 2009

'Cutting for Stone' by Abraham Verghese

'Cutting for Stone' by Abraham Verghese

Reviewed By Art Winslow
Chicago Tribune

The classical Hippocratic oath includes the avowal that "I will not use the knife, not even on sufferers from stone, but will withdraw in favor of such men as are engaged in this work." This, assumedly, is the allusion the physician and writer Abraham Verghese had in mind when titling his first novel "Cutting for Stone." Four of his principal characters—a father who abandoned his twin sons, the twins themselves and the man who became their surrogate father—make the life choice to become surgeons.

There are questions of bravery and ethics, and betrayal and forgiveness as well, bound up in this enterprise, which as Verghese twists the tale is partly one of Indian and Ethiopian diaspora. His narrator, a trauma surgeon named Marion Stone, was born a premature twin weighing 3 pounds and had to be cut from his conjoined brother, Shiva, at their birth in a hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Marion, now 50, is eager to relate his brother's story—he used to consider them a single being, ShivaMarion—which requires that he relate his own story, and that of their parents as well. Marion's life brought him from Africa to exile in America, and then back to Africa, a path which leaves him claiming he is "proof that geography is destiny," although much of "Cutting for Stone" can be read as illustrating the opposite.

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