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Review: Cutting for Stone

November 25, 2011

Sister Mary Joseph Praise and Doctor Thomas Stone are the perfect team in the operating room at “Missing” Hospital in Ethiopia.  They work very well together and have become close friends as well.  When the nun unexpectedly gives birth to their twin boys, who are conjoined at the head, Stone tries to kill them before fleeing.  Sister Mary Joseph Praise dies in childbirth so, after they’re separated, the twins are raised by two doctors at the hospital.  The twins are very different and choose different paths in life, but they both lead rich lives and witness their country on the brink of revolution, all the time wondering about their father.   The boys weave in and out of each other’s lives, finally uniting for an unexpected climax.

Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese, has gotten rave reviews so I was very excited when my book club chose to read it.  I went into this book with extremely high expectations and think I set myself up for disappointment.  While I appreciated the writing and the breadth of the story, I always felt removed from it.   I liked the characters well enough, but I never felt their passions or frustrations and had trouble connecting with them.  There are many graphic descriptions of surgeries and medical procedures that I had trouble understanding, and they removed me from the story as I read them.  I also found the pacing to be a little be off in the book.   The beginning and the end dragged for me while the middle of the book captured my attention – I think I would have enjoyed the book more if it had been pared down some.

I know it sounds like I didn’t like the book, but that wasn’t the case.  I liked it well enough, I just didn’t love it, like I thought I would.  The book is beautifully written and certainly expanded my vocabulary.  It presents a detailed, intricate story that is rich in detail.  I appreciated the glimpse into Ethiopia and always enjoyed the complicated relationship between the twin boys.  The overwhelming majority of reviews for this book have been positive, so if it sounds at all interesting to you, you should give it a try.

When my book club discussed the book, four members loved it, two members disliked it so much they didn’t finish it and one other member was in the middle with me.  One thing I found interesting was that everyone who said they loved the book said they skimmed the medical descriptions.  I am not a skimmer – I’m always afraid I’ll miss something vital to the story if I skim while I’m reading.  One member who loved the book urged her husband to read it and he loved it as well.

Review copy provided by Random House.  I am an Indiebound Affliate.
46 Comments leave one →
  1. November 25, 2011 5:16 am

    You have given a very fair review. On the whole I liked the book and, probably because I have medical interests, I was not put off by the descriptions of illness and surgeries. (I’m not a skimmer either.) You are correct that the opening sections drag. It takes Verghese too long to get into his real story. Once he is there, the pacing is good. The book enlarged my understanding of Ethiopia and the perils of life there.

  2. November 25, 2011 5:55 am

    I won’t say I never skim but it seems the medical descriptions would be integral to the story so I don’t think I would in this case. I appreciate your review.

  3. November 25, 2011 6:52 am

    I think I’m the only person not have read this! Because I have a biological/medical background I’d probably enjoy this.

  4. November 25, 2011 7:29 am

    I was curious about this book, but since I get squeamish with lengthy medical scenes/descriptions, I don’t think it’s ultimately right for me.

  5. November 25, 2011 8:30 am

    I kept reading glowing review after glowing review of this one, but never really got a sense of it. So when I did read it for book club, I had very few expectations. And we all LOVED it. Every last one of us. I even liked the medical descriptions, and wished I could do those kinds of things. I do think your expectations can have everything to do with your takeaway. I’m sure this one will end up on my top books list of the year.

  6. November 25, 2011 8:38 am

    I have heard only rave reviews about this book, tried listening to it earlier this year but didn’t finish.

    Like you, the writing was fine but I struggled with the amount of detail in the story. It felt like nothing was happening for far too long. My friend told me she didn’t like the book much until it was done and suggested I keep listening, it gets better. I tried.

    I’m so happy to discover I’m not alone. I didn’t dislike the story but wonder if it’s one to read rather than listen to. I do plan to try again, reading it.

  7. November 25, 2011 8:38 am

    I also want to read this one and bought it for myself for my birthday last year. I have heard nothing but good things about it, and am concerned that my reaction may be a bit like yours because of all the hype. I do know that you were pulling some excellent vocabulary building words from it for the longest time! I wonder if I will be thrilled with this one, like Sandy was, or just sort of meh about it. Very candid review today, Kathy. I appreciated it.

  8. November 25, 2011 8:40 am

    Wow, I’m surprised at the negative reactions! I actually want to read this one again! Mostly what I remember of it now was craving Indian food while reading it!

  9. Nancy permalink
    November 25, 2011 8:49 am

    I listened to it from Audible and I have to admit that the voice of the reader was so beautiful and so hypnotic that I probably would have listened if he had been reading the dictionary.

    I did love the book, though I agree the beginning was a little slow and descriptive, but I think it was necessary to give the feel of the time and the mindset of the main characters. I have a biology/chemistry background so I found the medical scenes and descriptions were very interesting.

    I was fascinated to read about the history of Ethiopia and the development of medical techniques and dedication of the doctors and hospital staff in such a harsh environment.

  10. November 25, 2011 8:55 am

    Sorry to hear you didn’t love this as much. I absolutely loved it, but also enjoyed the medical sections for some odd reason 🙂 Sounds like it was a fun one to discuss in book club though.

  11. November 25, 2011 9:41 am

    Cutting for Stone is one of the unread books I have on my Nook. I’ve seen so many rave reviews of this novel, but your review is very balanced. I like the fact that you shared reactions of other readers. I will be reading this one soon-can’t wait to see what my reaction will be.

  12. November 25, 2011 9:57 am

    Good review. As you know, I really did like it.


  13. November 25, 2011 10:00 am

    I’ve had this one on the TBR shelf for much too long. Someday.

  14. November 25, 2011 10:19 am

    Thanks! for the review, sorry you were disappointed in it.

  15. November 25, 2011 10:22 am

    I’m reading this right now. I am enjoying it but it is a little slow going.

  16. November 25, 2011 10:23 am

    My feelings on this one are mixed as well. About a third of the way in I screamed “get an editor!” but by the end I was devouring the pages and loving it.

  17. November 25, 2011 10:47 am

    I have to go back and re-read my review but I remember liking this book a lot more than you.
    I think…

  18. November 25, 2011 10:59 am

    I really enjoyed this one with our book club but part of that was that we cooked the food that they talked about in and that was an experience! I made the Dora wot which is Ethiopian and delicious!

  19. November 25, 2011 11:06 am

    I haven’t read the book but did read a few reviews of it. I’m not sure this is the book for me…

  20. November 25, 2011 11:25 am

    Those that say they skim parts but loved the story confuse me. Shouldn’t you read all without the need to skim. Very interesting. I decided this won’t be for me.

  21. November 25, 2011 12:19 pm

    I was very interested to read your review of this one. I have heard such mixed reactions to it in the bookshop — sort of a microcosm of they way your book club reacted. Some customers raved about it, and others could not get through it. My good friend, who also works in the shop read it, and sort of felt like you did I think. She said she felt like she was slugging through alot of it, with a few parts much faster going. She also was put off by the wealth of medical description. I sort of decided that this was probably not one for me, that I might not have the patience to push through.

    You wrote an excellent review — your comments really identified what worked for you and what didn’t 🙂

  22. November 25, 2011 1:27 pm

    Oh, bummer! I’ve heard so many good things about this one, too, and can imagine how all that hype would set you up for disappointment. I’m glad you enjoyed it, though, if not SO MUCH.

  23. Liz permalink
    November 25, 2011 2:36 pm

    I enjoyed Cutting for Stone enough to get Verghese’s non-fiction book My Own Country, about his work as an infectious disease doctor at the outset of the AIDS epidemic.

  24. November 25, 2011 4:52 pm

    I really liked this book. I guess because I read it without any expectations. Here are my thoughts:

  25. November 25, 2011 4:58 pm

    I always find that I need distance from books that others rave about otherwise my expectations make the book a disappointment.

  26. November 25, 2011 6:47 pm

    Darn those burdens of expectations! I think I want to read this but I will wait for another 10 years or so when it will all seem new again.

  27. November 25, 2011 7:32 pm

    This is on my TBR list but haven’t been in the mood to read it yet. Guess I shouldn’t have my hopes too high. I don’t mind the medical descriptions and all, in fact, that’s probably the part that I’d be interested in. Will have to keep in mind that it has a slow start – I like fast paced books (but not TOO fast.) Yes I’m demanding 🙂

  28. November 25, 2011 8:44 pm

    I didn’t fall in love with one either but I appreciated what he was doing. I thought it was one of the best descriptions of medical stuff I’ve ever read … not that I read a lot of it or want to but he really brought surgery to life for me.

  29. November 25, 2011 10:23 pm

    I think I could be partially to blame. I warned you about the first 100 or so pages, but I ended up loving this book — really loving it. I probably built it up too much for you!

  30. November 26, 2011 5:36 am

    It’s always a surprise to find a best bud who didn’t love the same book you did; thus, you and I on this one! LOL
    I couldn’t get enough of “Cutting for Stone.” To say I loved it would be an understatement, actually. What I think it is, is that it’s not a book club book that one “has” to quick read for a group discussion. It’s a book to savor. (Did I spell that correctly? Always bothers me, that word…)
    I think it’s a book you take your time with, and that you have to be in the right state of mind to read. Know the feeling? There are certain books that capture your notion…you have to be in the “mood” to read them. This is one of those books.
    I loved every single thing about it. I adored the characters. I loved the medical parts with all their gory details because they were so raw and earthy and alive. I loved the commitments the characters made to each other and to their people/patients. I loved the myths, mysteries and the symbolism..the culture and the crimes. I loved the heartbreaking obsessions and the ugliness of some of the happenings and all of the mess and madness of this book.
    It represented earthiness and realism to me. It wasn’t just Ethiopia, but creativity, cutting stone in many ways, carving out a way in life, cutting away the refuse of earthshattering hurts. I could go on.
    I have one “snipie” comment about those who skim a book like this…it means they didn’t read it. Flat out, didn’t read it. So there’s no way to have continuity and understanding of the book. Book groupies are notorious for this, and that is often why many give varied responses to books on-the-table. I’m more at home with reviewers.
    This is a book I’m having to put on my best books of all time list! Yikes!

    But, on to other books and other reviews with you, dear friend. Can’t be perfectly in tune all the time. :]
    Happy Thanksgiving, by the way. And, I wish you well in the coming season. Can’t believe we’re THERE already!

    • Angie S. permalink
      November 26, 2011 9:17 am

      Great mini review Deborah!

  31. November 26, 2011 8:13 am

    Hm, I do think I saw the movie in a shelf…not sure, but anyway, not sure if it is the book for me either. There is something that makes me unsure

  32. kaye permalink
    November 26, 2011 8:18 am

    I think the medical stuff would turn me off to the book. I can understand the skimmers!
    Even when we watch Body of Proof on TV, I close my eyes at some of the close ups during autopsies. TBG has to tell me when it’s safe to look again. Lol!

  33. Angie S. permalink
    November 26, 2011 9:16 am

    I thought it was a fantastic book and the small book group I read it with liked it as well. I have to agree with Sheila from Book Journey, the food was an integral part of our experience and really made the book come alive for us.

  34. November 26, 2011 9:34 pm

    Perhaps Beth F and I should challenge each other to read CUTTING FOR STONE 🙂

    Like you, I’m not a skimmer, and I think I’d have a similar reaction to yours (very high expectations)

  35. November 27, 2011 1:10 pm

    I haven’t read this one yet myself, but many people have told me how much theyhave loved this book. Sometimes when I hear that, I procrastinate against reading the book because I don’t want to be let down!

  36. November 27, 2011 4:39 pm

    We had a similar overall experience with this book, and I don’t skim either.

  37. November 27, 2011 4:57 pm

    I thought this one was fantastic! I read it with my book club too, and their reactions were pretty positive.

  38. November 27, 2011 6:11 pm

    I’m glad to hear a balanced review of this one. So many people LOVED it. I have it on the shelf but the length has been putting me off of it. Interesting about the skimming part–I’ve found that I’m less patient with those types of descriptions these days and would most likely skim the medical descriptions, too.

  39. November 28, 2011 4:53 pm

    I’ve had this one on my list to read since (I think) Sandy from You Gotta Read This raved about it. I do hate when a book that I think I will love ends up just being one that I like. That being said, I’m sure I will read this one in the future and take my chances that I might love it!

  40. November 29, 2011 12:43 am

    This has been on my wish list forever and I appreicate your review. Unlike you I now have the advantage of lowered expectations 🙂

  41. November 29, 2011 10:49 am

    I felt that some of the secondary characters were more well developed than the primary ones. In the end, I didn’t see the “wow” factor, besides the fact that a busy doctor managed to find the time to write it. It was a book club pick for us too. Some ADORED it because they had heard him speak. Even the author said that the edited version was 400 pages less than what he delivered. Maybe the character development I wanted, ended up in the trash with such a heavy edit.

  42. November 29, 2011 2:49 pm

    After so many years of working in medical offices and hospitals, the medical part of this book would really appeal to me. I love that stuff, and I watch intently on shows like CSI and Body of Proof. I’m also quite patient with books that begin slowly and I’m getting more patient with slow-moving books in general as I get older. I’m definitely going to read this one.

  43. November 29, 2011 8:11 pm

    Hmm, I’m sort of disappointed because I’ve been wanting to read this but have been afraid I’ll have the reaction you did to it. It seems like a long book too so I’m afraid I might get bored and not finish it. I hope the medical description parts aren’t too long!!…

  44. December 1, 2011 1:41 pm

    My book club is considering this book for our next read so I will keep in mind your review. I don’t mind medical descriptions but I know some in the group that might.

  45. December 7, 2011 4:33 pm

    I didn’t love the graphic descriptions of surgeries either, but overall I did enjoy the book more than you did! I’m adding a link to this one to the South Asian Review Database as well.

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