Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese. I started out listening to this on CD and ended up by reading the book — it’s always interesting to compare the two experiences. Sunil Malhotra reads with a wonderful Anglo-Indian accent, which provides extra background atmosphere. One oddity of that accent is that the letter P sounds like B and C sounds like G, among other characteristics. So it wasn’t until I finally read the printed page that I realized the twins’ mother was Sister Mary Joseph Praise, not Braise.
Early in the story, the twins’ mother goes into labour at Missing Hospital in Ethiopia, where she works. Nobody had known she was pregnant and the shock and disbelief surrounding this news contribute to fatal delays in treatment. So, despite the belated efforts of the hospital staff, Sister Mary Joseph Praise dies giving birth to the twins, named Marion and Shiva. Their father, the surgeon Thomas Stone, arrives too late to save her and consequently bitterly resents and abandons his sons.
The story thereafter is seen mainly through the eyes of Marion, the first-born twin. The twins are raised by two doctors from the hospital, Hema and Ghosh. Inevitably, both boys show aptitude for medicine and learn from their parents.
The book is rich with the drama of village life and family life, the practice of medicine in a country where conditions are often primitive, and later the politics and bloodshed of Ethiopia during the reign and overthrow of Emperor Haile Selassie.
Medical conditions and operations are described in detail, providing an intriguing look at human anatomy, the things that can go wrong with it, and the things that doctors and surgeons can do to repair it. Marion’s early matter-of-fact acceptance of these things and his growing fascination with the medical life unfold through much of the story.
There was only one thing I found less than believable. In this setting it’s inevitable that the topic of female genital mutilation should be raised, but it seemed unlikely that it would have been done to this particular character in this particular circumstance.
Aside from that quibble, I was under the spell of this book, completely enthralled by the writing. Verghese’s understanding of human quirks and human frailty is impressive. He makes you care about the twists in the lives of the twins and those in their circle. You enter their world and don’t want to leave it.
I had this beautiful beet salad at Araxi. If you are in the Whistler area in October next year, check to see if they are doing the special October tasting menu. I am not a fan of huge plates of anything, so I love multi-course tasting menus: lots of different flavours and textures, beautifully presented and the opportunity to try several things instead of having to pick one or two. This was the second course in a dinner of smoked Roma tomato soup, mushroom risotto, ricotta gnocchi, and poached pear.
My companion and I sat down and looked at the program. We were confused. Did we really buy tickets for something described as a zombie-apocalypse play? We bought tickets for the 2012-2013 play season back in spring or summer, so maybe we had just forgotten what we chose. Or maybe we thought it would be suitable for the week before Hallowe’en.
Well, it turned out to be a lot of fun. I agree with Plank Magazine’s “Unabashedly, hilariously gross.” Four strangers sheltering in a warehouse after some global disaster, the flashes and explosions of which continue to echo throughout, are trying to decide what to do. They consider applying the lessons of their lives so far. Make a two-column list of their needs and what they have on hand? Consider eating each other if and when the time comes? Repopulate the earth? Their deadpan demeanour works really well.
We laughed throughout the whole thing. It was a light, fun start to the play season.