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Cutting for Stone (Vintage)

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Cutting for Stone (Vintage) Cover

 

 

Reading Group Guide

1. Abraham Verghese has said that his ambition in writing Cutting for Stone was to “tell a great story, an old-fashioned, truth-telling story.” In what ways is Cutting for Stone an old-fashioned story—and what does it share with the great novels of the nineteenth century? What essential human truths does it convey?

2. What does Cutting for Stone reveal about the emotional lives of doctors? Contrast the attitudes of Hema, Ghosh, Marion, Shiva, and Thomas Stone toward their work. What draws each of them to the practice of medicine? How are they affected, emotionally and otherwise, by the work they do?

3. Marion observes that in Ethiopia, patients assume that all illnesses are fatal and that death is expected, but in America, news of having a fatal illness “always seemed to come as a surprise, as if we took it for granted that we were immortal” [p. 486]. What other important differences does Cutting for Stone reveal about the way illness is viewed and treated in Ethiopia and in the United States? To what extent are these differences reflected in the split between poor hospitals, like the one in the Bronx where Marion works, and rich hospitals like the one in Boston where his father works?

4. In the novel, Thomas Stone asks, “What treatment in an emergency is administered by ear?” The correct answer is “Words of comfort.” How does this moment encapsulate the book's surprising take on medicine? Have your experiences with doctors and hospitals held this to be true? Why or why not? What doesCutting for Stone tell us about the roles of compassion, faith, and hope in medicine?

5. There are a number of dramatic scenes on operating tables in Cutting for Stone: the twins' births, Thomas Stone amputating his own finger, Ghosh untwisting Colonel Mebratu's volvulus, the liver transplant, etc. How does Verghese use medical detail to create tension and surprise? What do his depictions of dramatic surgeries share with film and television hospital dramas—and yet how are they different?

6. Marion suffers a series of painful betrayals—by his father, by Shiva, and by Genet. To what degree is he able, by the end of the novel, to forgive them?

7. To what extent does the story of Thomas Stone's childhood soften Marion's judgment of him? How does Thomas's suffering as a child, the illness of his parents, and his own illness help to explain why he abandons Shiva and Marion at their birth? How should Thomas finally be judged?

8. In what important ways does Marion come to resemble his father, although he grows up without him? How does Marion grow and change over the course of the novel?

9. A passionate, unique love affair sets Cutting for Stone in motion, and yet this romance remains a mystery—even to the key players—until the very conclusion of the novel. How does the relationship between Sister Mary Joseph Praise and Thomas Stone affect the lives of Shiva and Marion, Hema and Ghosh, Matron and everyone else at Missing? What do you think Verghese is trying to say about the nature of love and loss?

10. What do Hema, Matron, Rosina, Sister Mary Joseph Praise, Genet, and Tsige—as well as the many women who come to Missing seeking medical treatment—reveal about what life is like for women in Ethiopia?

11. Addis Ababa is at once a cosmopolitan city thrumming with life and the center of a dictatorship rife with conflict. How do the influences of Ethiopia's various rulers—England, Italy, Emperor Selassie—reveal themselves in day-to-day life? How does growing up there affect Marion's and Shiva's worldviews?

12. As Ghosh nears death, Marion comments that the man who raised him had no worries or regrets, that “there was no restitution he needed to make, no moment he failed to seize” [p. 424]. What is the key to Ghosh's contentment? What makes him such a good father, doctor, and teacher? What wisdom does he impart to Marion?

13. Although it's also a play on the surname of the characters, the title Cutting for Stone comes from a line in the Hippocratic Oath: “I will not cut for stone, even for patients in whom the disease is manifest; I will leave this operation to be performed by practitioners, specialists in this art.” Verghese has said that this line comes from ancient times, when bladder stones were epidemic and painful: “There were itinerant stone cutters—lithologists—who could cut into either the bladder or the perineum and get the stone out, but because they cleaned the knife by wiping their blood-stiffened surgical aprons, patients usually died of infection the next day.” How does this line resonate for the doctors in the novel?

14. Almost all of the characters in Cutting for Stone are living in some sort of exile, self-imposed or forced, from their home country—Hema and Ghosh from India, Marion from Ethiopia, Thomas from India and then Ethiopia. Verghese is of Indian descent but was born and raised in Ethiopia, went to medical school in India, and has lived and worked in the United States for many years. What do you think this novel says about exile and the immigrant experience? How does exile change these characters, and what do they find themselves missing the most about home?

(For a complete list of available reading group guides, and to sign up for the Reading Group Center enewsletter, visit www.readinggroupcenter.com)

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 174 comments:

William Hardcastle, December 9, 2013 (view all comments by William Hardcastle)
One of the best books I've ever read. A complex story of love and betrayal, medicine and ordinary miracles. A page turning, adventure through a family's history from India, to Africa, to NYC.
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rmcopley16, January 30, 2013 (view all comments by rmcopley16)
This book made me want to visit Ethiopia, somewhere I never thought I'd have an interest in....
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LAB, January 30, 2013 (view all comments by LAB)
Don't judge this book by its cover! Contrary to what the cover suggests, Cutting for Stone is an excellent read. An epic, intense, well-written, moving story.
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View all 174 comments

Product Details

ISBN:
9780375714368
Author:
Verghese, Abraham
Publisher:
Vintage
Author:
Various
Author:
Verghese, A.
Subject:
Literary
Subject:
Medical
Subject:
Sagas
Subject:
General Fiction
Subject:
Fathers and sons
Subject:
Brothers
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Series:
Vintage
Publication Date:
20100126
Binding:
Paperback
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Pages:
688
Dimensions:
28 x 13.1 x 4.6 in 17 lb

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Cutting for Stone (Vintage) Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$15.95 In Stock
Product details 688 pages Vintage Books USA - English 9780375714368 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

I'm used to reading good authors, but Verghese is so good, he blew me away. He writes with such detached compassion that Ethiopia becomes your homeland, and Matron, Ghosh, Marion and Shiva Stone, and all the rest become your friends, your neighbors, and your family. Do yourself a favor: read this book.

"Staff Pick" by ,

Cutting for Stone is both an excellent read and a gift that keeps on giving: I've recommended this book to many, many customers — some of whom have come back to thank me personally and buy more copies as gifts. The plot travels in many diverse directions, but eventually converges to create one solid story; you'll love, laugh, hate, and cry throughout its panoramic unfolding. This is such an outstanding novel, one can only dream of an encore.

"Review" by , "An enormously impressive first novel. . . . Many physicians write eloquently about their work — Atul Gawande and Oliver Sacks come readily to mind — but Abraham Verghese may be the first to use his medical expertise to reconfigure a hallowed literary genre: the epic novel. [He] has written a riveting tale . . . while interweaving graphic physiological details and lots of shoptalk. . . . A powerful story of abandonment, betrayal, and redemptive (and destructive) love. . . . Page-turning."
"Review" by , "Cutting for Stone is nothing short of masterful — a riveting tale of love, medicine, and the complex dynamic of twin brothers. It is beautifully conceived and written. The settings are wonderfully pictorial. There is no doubt in my mind that Cutting for Stone will endure in the permanent literature of our time."
"Review" by , "A grand, exquisitely drawn story of twin brothers that ranges from birth to death, and from Ethiopia to America. In Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese shows us with brilliance and passion where healing comes from, and how we move through suffering to embrace life. In the hands of this compassionate doctor/writer, the details are indelible: A wonderful book."
"Review" by , "A winner. . . . Filled with mystical scenes and deeply felt characters. . . . Verghese is something of a magician as a novelist."
"Review" by , "His intimate depiction of humanity makes your pulse race, your eyes tear, and your lungs exhale a satisfied sigh."
"Review" by , "[R]ead it for the medical education. Or for the characters. Or for the action, or for the dynamics of an unhappy family. But do yourself a favor. Read it."
"Review" by , "At its best, the first novel from physician Verghese displays the virtues so evident in his bestselling and much-lauded memoirs."
"Review" by , "Verghese writes beautifully. A great, sweeping novel."
"Review" by , "Magical . . . Vivid . . . Cutting for Stone kept me absorbed and enthralled all the way to India."
"Review" by , "[A] fantastic evocation of the life of a pair of twins whose mother was a nun and father an English surgeon."
"Review" by , "Verghese is a novelist revealing extraordinary skill. With Cutting for Stone, [he] proves his gift [and] shares with us a story that cuts into our hearts and burns into our minds. . . . This epic of family and love is told largely from the operating theater as surgeon and soul become one."
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