Every now and then a book comes along that speaks to us in such a way that when we finish it, we want to flip right back to Page 1 and start all over again. Such is the case with “Cutting for Stone” by Abraham Verghese.
Some might say that “Cutting for Stone” is not a religious book, and it certainly is not a “Christian” book in that it is not limited to the Christian perspective. It does, however, masterfully interweave theological themes that touch upon every life, whether we are aware of them or not. Included in the themes that Verghese explores are call, obedience, sin, redemption, sacrifice and reconciliation. What makes the book so compelling is that Verghese explores all these issues (and more) through the lens of an unconventional family made up of flawed and gracious persons. No one is perfect or “saintly,” yet several of the characters certainly behave like saints in the Reformed understanding of the word. We quickly come to care about these people and what happens to them, and we see in a fresh way how the issues of faith that can seem so abstract are actually intertwined with the most quotidian choices we make every day (as well as the more significant ones). Sometimes we do not know if a choice we make is one that is going to change our lives forever or one that will be forgotten in a matter of hours until long after, so it is wise to pay careful attention to how our actions affect not only ourselves, but others as well.
“Cutting for Stone” is primarily set at a mission hospital in Ethiopia, although India and New York City are featured almost as extra characters in the story. The main story line focuses on a set of twin brothers (Marion and Shiva), their enmeshment in each others’ lives, an eventual fissure in the relationship and their ultimate reunion. But Verghese also takes the reader through significant periods of Ethiopian history and the repercussions of conflict between Ethoipia and Eritrea. A parallel track that runs alongside the narrative of healing within hearts and relationships is fascinating information about medicine and the struggle to heal bodies in situations where the supplies and equipment are inadequate to meet the needs. Articles, essays and stories about physicians and medicine have always mesmerized me, so this piece of the story captured and held my attention. If you have ever enjoyed the nonfiction writing of Atul Gawande, “Cutting for Stone” is a novel that is well worth your time.
To say too much is prematurely to reveal the many gifts of this fine novel; suffice it to say you should put this book on your list and read it sooner rather than later. It is one of the great ones.
LESLIE A. KLINGENSMITH is pastor of St. Matthew Presbyterian Church in Silver Spring, Md.