So, two years after the rest of the world shouted joyfully at the publication of Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for Stone (“Beautiful,” according to The New Yorker, “A masterpiece” said San Francisco Chronicle), I finally screwed my courage to the sticking place and read it. Little did I know this would be one of the favorite phrases of one of my favorite characters in the book: An Indian doctor, Ghosh, practicing surgery and quoting Shakespeare and saving two orphan boys (together with his powerful and irresistible doctor wife Hema) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Ever since I read A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, I’ve avoided celebrated books by Indian writers because I cannot take the poverty, sickness, cruelty to children, rape, the permanent injustice. I loved A Fine Balance but I still cannot get that damn book out of my head. It was absolutely fantastic and I wish I’d never read it.
Anyway, so here comes Cutting for Stone — I didn’t know if Verghese was Indian but he looked suspiciously so in his back cover photo–and it’s about doctors working in Ethiopia and they are certainly Indian … and I was like, yeah, well, I’ve done my duty on human suffering. Read enough about it. God only knows what abyss lies here. But my mother in law kept insisting I try it and then my sister promised me I would not be scarred for life … so I read it.
Loved it. This is a book about doctors and surgery and Ethiopia and brothers and disease and politics and love and death. Big Topics You Should Read About. But I was most enthralled by how the author spins scene after scene showing how much good two people can do. That’s sort of unAmerican–in the U.S., we are all about the power of one, what one good person can do–but I thought this book was really about the power of two. Two twin brothers, a husband and wife, a hospital matron and a Texas missionary: throughout this elaborate tale, disaster looms but people hook up, manage to relate, and the chaos is abated. It made me feel really, really good about people.
Danielle Furlich is a magazine editor and mother of two in Fairfax, Virginia.