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Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese (2010)

One of my favorite things about the book club I’m in is that we take turns in selecting the book.  Each member gets a month.  She can pick whatever the heck she wants in her month, and doesn’t have to deal with winning people over to her choice.  The result of this is that we cover very broad ground in genre and style.  Best of all– it gets me to read books I would not otherwise pick up.  Sometimes these books, like Cutting for Stone, are magnificent.

Admittedly, I almost didn’t read it at all.  This book was up for discussion in July, and I wasn’t able to make it to the meeting.  I was already running a bit behind on some other things I was reading.  Also, the book was selected by my friend Viki.  Viki is a wonderful person, but she and I have just about polar opposites in reading tastes, so I assumed this book wouldn’t be to my liking.

The bookjacket description wasn’t doing much for me either:

Marion and Shiva Stone are twin brothers born of a secret union between a beautiful Indian nun and a brash British surgeon. Orphaned by their mother’s death and their father’s disappearance, bound together by a preternatural connection and a shared fascination with medicine, the twins come of age as Ethiopia hovers on the brink of revolution.

Moving from Addis Ababa to New York City and back again, Cutting for Stone is an unforgettable story of love and betrayal, medicine and ordinary miracles–and two brothers whose fates are forever intertwined.

Ok, love, betrayal, miracles. These are all supposed to GRAB your attention, but for me, it seemed kind of blah.  Then I had the guilt.  In the year or so of this book club’s operation, there has been one book I didn’t finish because I just did not like it.  I’ve never skipped a book entirely.  What a bad book club member I would be if I didn’t even give it a try.

This isn’t the kind of novel that sucks you right in with action and adventure.  It’s more like sitting around a fire with an old relative, telling you a story of life in the old country…and you start to listen, and your attention to the room around you fades as you are drawn in by the words and the figures, and before you realize what has happened, you are surrounded by the story, and can’t (and don’t want to) pry your attention away.

It’s hard to explain the plot of Cutting for Stone, because it’s so much more about the people.  There’s plenty of plot in there too– war, danger, all that exciting stuff.  But this book truly shines in its characters– devoted Ghosh, admirable Hema, flawed Genet, hardworking and heartbroken Marion, and selfish but simple Shiva.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I hand out “4’s” generously.  If I think something is a good use of my time, it’s a “4.”  But a rating of “5” I withhold for books that I think are truly amazing.  This book really is a 5.  Nice pick, Viki.

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