Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Do No Harm

Abraham Verghese had written two highly acclaimed memoirs before he wrote his first novel,“Cutting For Stone”. This novel is an ambitious, family epic that spans over forty years and two continents.

The narrator and protagonist of this story is Marion Stone. The story opens in 1954 as Marion describes the dramatic, frightening, haphazard sequence of events that transpired as he and his twin brother, Shiva, were born at Missing Hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. “Missing was really Mission Hospital, a word that on the Ethiopian tongue came out with a hiss so it sounded like Missing.”

Marion and Shiva Stone were born to an Indian nun, Sister Mary Joseph Praise, and an English doctor, Thomas Stone, who worked together at Missing. At birth the twins were joined at the head by a short, fleshy tube that passed from the crown of one to the other. The drama that surrounded their birth and the split second decisions made by Dr. Kalpana Hemlatha, as she worked to save the lives of these infants, is compelling to read. What transpired after the birth is sad and difficult to understand.

The boys grow up in the comforting surroundings of Missing raised by Dr. Hemlatha (Hema) and the compassionate man she finally marries, Dr. Abhi Ghosh. They are surrounded by love and the political turmoil of Ethiopia, quietly learning how to be doctors from their adopted parents and all the wonderful characters who care for them at Missing.

The author describes medical procedures and operations in minute detail that may not appeal to all readers. I found it fascinating. Verghese’s writing is clear and detailed, making the reader feel like you are right there in the operating room with these passionate, skilled doctors.

The story takes Marion to Nairobi, as he flees the Ethiopian secret police, and finally to New York where he finishes his medical training. Shiva remains in Ethiopia in his own self styled world. The appearance in New York of Marion's childhood love, Genet, brings this epic story to a sad, complicated end. This end also brings Dr. Thomas Stone back into Marion and Shiva’s lives.

In some ways Verghese has been too ambitious. He has a wonderful story to tell with fascinating characters, exciting medical procedures and important historical events. But the end seems somewhat contrived. Abraham Verghese is an author and a physician. He has attempted to give the reader a wonderful combination of both worlds. He is a great storyteller and his characters are strong, believable and memorable. Abraham Verghese has written a powerful, epic story entwining medicine, family and country that may have some flaws, but is a wonderful read.

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