Thursday, June 28, 2012

285 (2012 #30). Cutting for Stone

by Abraham Verghese,
read by Sunil Malhotra

This was a great pick for book club!  Abraham Verghese has created fascinating characters, and made me care about them.  The plot moves along against a setting of political turmoil in Ethiopia, with the backdrop of  practice of medicine there and with immigrant doctors-in-training in New York City.

The book begins with the birth of twins Marion and Shiva Stone in September, 1954.  Their mother is an Indian nun nurse, Sister Mary Joseph Praise; their father, Englishman Thomas Stone, works with her as the surgeon at Missing* Hospital (*the local mispronunciation of Mission).

Verghese tells Sister's and Thomas' stories in flashbacks throughout the book, as well as the backgrounds of the other two major characters, fellow Missing Indian physicians Hema (a female ob/gyn) and Ghosh (a male internist, later surgeon).  There's a wonderful storyline about the creating and meaning of family, even if it's a bit unconventional.

There are definite parallels between the story and Verghese's own life, and, with his medical background, his descriptions of conditions and procedures are detailed and graphic.  I enjoyed these, though, as well as I did learning more about Ethiopia and Eritrea.  Although there is a lot of tragedy in the book, there's also quite a bit of humor, particularly in Verghese's descriptions of life for foreign medical students doing inner-city residencies at "Ellis Island hospitals," as the character B.C. Gandhi calls them.  Gandhi and Marion also participate in this funny (because it's so true) exchange on this topic (page 401-402):

B.C. sat back in his chair.  "Whatever America needs, the world will supply.  Cocaine? Columbia steps to the plate. Shortage of farmworkers, corn detasselers? Thank God for Mexico.  Baseball players?  Viva Dominica.  Need more interns?  India, Philippines zindabad!"

I [Marion] felt stupid for not having seen this before. "So the hospitals where I was going to interview," I said. "In Coney Island, Queens --"

"All Ellis Island hospitals.  Just like us.  All the house staff are foreigners and so are many of the attending physicians.  Some are all Indian.  Some have more of a Persian flavor.  Others are all Pakistani or all Filipino.  That's the power of word of mouth.  You bring your cousin who brings his classmate and so on.  And when we finish training here, where do we go, Marion?"

I shook my head.  I didn't know.

"Anywhere.  That's the answer.  We go to the small towns that need us.  Like Toejam, Texas, or Armpit, Alaska.  The kinds of places American doctors won't go and practice."

"Why not?"

"Because, salah, in those villages there's no symphony!  No culture!  No pro-ball team!  How is an American doctor supposed to live there?"

"Is that where you will go, B.C.? To a small town?" I said.

"Are you kidding?  You expect me to live without a symphony?  Without the Mets or the Yankees?  No sir.  Gandhi is staying in New York.  I am Bombay born and Bombay bred, and what is New York but Mumbai Light?  I'll have my office on Park Avenue.  You see, there is a crisis in health care on Park Avenue.   The citizens are suffering because their breasts are too small or their nose is too big, or they have a roll around the belly.  Who will be there for them?'

I'm trying not to give away too much of the plot - suffice to say I found the whole book fascinating and well worth reading.  The only part of the book that I had trouble swallowing was Marion's long-held torch for Genet, the daughter of a family servant that the twins grew up with - and what he does (or, more accurately, didn't do, given that he is a doctor).  It just didn't make sense, particularly after her teenage betrayal.

I listened to the audiobook, which was masterfully read by actor Sunil Malhotra, who created diverse voices for over 70 different characters spanning four continents.  I would highly recommend the audiobook, but if you don't like that format, go with the print or e-book - just read it.

© Amanda Pape - 2012

No comments:

Post a Comment