Book Review : CUTTING FOR STONE by Abraham Verghese

A medical romance. A nostalgic tale. A lovely piece of literary prose. Abraham Verghese’s ‘Cutting for Stone‘ is all of this. And more.

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Near the beginning of this delightful book there’s a lovely quote:

“Life is like that. You live it forward, but understand it backward. It is only when you stop and look to the rear that you see the corpse caught under your wheel.”

I enjoyed “Cutting for Stone” just a little extra – for two unique reasons. One, because I’m a surgeon. Two, because the author is from my medical school.

A very good writer remembers those easy-to-forget feelings, fears and uncomfortable points of view s/he held during carefree youth, and dredges them up to adorn fictional characters with.

For example, anyone who went to Madras Medical College (and the library) will relish this…

“The couples who huddled in the library behind oversize anatomy atlases and whispered themselves into the notions of love amused her. I had no time for such silliness.”

You’d imagine that, as a surgeon, I would identify with the lead character in a story who happens to be a surgeon… but no, actually, it’s the obstetrician Hema who captivated me!

Here’s how Verghese introduces her:

“What exactly did she want? It was an ambition that wouldn’t let her compete for, or seek, the same things others sought. What other obstetricians perhaps dreaded, she relished….

In those moments, she did not have existential doubts. Life became sharply focused, meaningful just when she wasn’t thinking of meaning… Hema herself was reduced to the instrument required to treat.”

Wow! That still raises goosebumps, each time I read it.

I look at my notes after reading ‘Cutting for Stone‘, and see that I’ve saved one more snippet as a particular favorite:

I chose the specialty of surgery because of Matron.

“What is the hardest thing you can possibly do?” she said.

I squirmed. How easily Matron probed the gap between ambition and expediency. “Why must I do what is hardest?”

“Because, Marion, you are an instrument of God. Don’t leave the instrument sitting in its case, my son. Play! Leave no part of your instrument unexplored. Why settle for ‘Three Blind Mice’ when you can play the ‘Gloria’?

And then, there’s this quote that’s close to my own philosophy of life:

“Not only our actions, but also our omissions, become our destiny.”

Cutting for Stone‘ is a great read.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

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