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nataliya

nataliya

“Books are a uniquely portable magic.” 
― Stephen King, On Writing.

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"If you want to know what a man's like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals."— J.K. Rowling

Cutting for Stone

Cutting for Stone - Abraham Verghese My favorite parts of this sizable tome were, of course, the medical jargon and the lyrically gory descriptions of diseases and surgeries. I guess, by now I have finally and irreversibly crossed that thin line between sanity and medicine.Yes, all the descriptions of diseases and surgeries, and the handy medical mneumonics were like music to my ears. Really. Reading Verghese's Cutting for Stone reminded me of the conversations that I tend to have with my friends in the medical field - they inevitably will deteriorate into the full-on medical jargon-fest. And they will become hard (and boring) to follow for the 'outsiders'. And I love it in a strange way. Insanity, like I said.Tell me, in what other fiction book can you read about surgery for volvulus, vaginal fistula repairs, detailed C-section and transplant surgery description, and medical conditions that are becoming increasingly rare in the US and therefore are fascinating? Where else in fiction do you get a crash review course on different kinds of cardiac murmurs or vesicovaginal fistulae and the history of their repair? Right, I thought so. Medicine is so seamlessly integrated in the very structure of this novel that it becomes a character in its own right. Nicely done, Dr. Verghese. “I'm ashamed of our human capacity to hurt and maim one another, to desecrate the body. Yet it allows me to see the cabalistic harmony of heart peeking out behind lung, of liver and spleen consulting each other under the dome of the diaphragm -- these things leave me speechless.” Oh, but I guess you also care about the story, and not just about my dithyrambs about the medical jargon? Okay, okay. Here is the brief synopsis of 600-plus pages:“Wasn't that the definition of home? Not where you are from, but where you are wanted.”Twin boys Shiva and Marion (*) are born in a poor 'Missing' Hospital in Ethiopia to an Indian nun (who died in childbirth status post a horrific and vividly described Cesarean section) and a socially inept but talented British surgeon (who promptly exits the twins' lives mere minutes after their birth, having almost crushed their initially conjoined heads(*) Marion is named after Marion Sims, the "father of American gynecology", who in the 19th century pioneered the operation for repair of vesicovaginal fistula (the abnormal communication between urethra and vagina with all the unpleasant and horrific consequences) - the operation that Shiva performs in this book.Marion Sims' work became a subject of much controversy in the 20th century since he practiced his craft without anesthesia on slave women, with unknown consent of his subjects on some of whom he operated about 30 times.The past of medicine is very often a very scary and cruel place.The boys are adopted and raised by an eccentric couple of Indian doctors at Missing - Hema and Ghosh, who in an adorable and sweet way 'renew' their marriage each year. We witness them growing up around the hospital, learning medicine from a very tender age, living through periods of Ethiopian civil unrest, and, of course, girl troubles (Genet - the tragic girl who always tragically plays the tragic role in the brothers' tragic lives). Both brothers decide to pursue medicine - self-taught Shiva is a gynecologist while Marion completes his surgical residency in the USA and meets his estranged father. More tragedy ensues, forever changing the lives of the twins, and everyone learns the value of love and family through much sadness. And it's both a bit cheesy and melodramatic and touching.“What we are fighting isn't godlessness--this is the most godly country on earth. We aren't even fighting disease. Its poverty. Money for food, medicines... that helps. When we cannot cure or save a life, our patients can at least feel cared for. It should be a basic human right.” I also rather enjoyed the descriptions of practice of medicine in a poor Ethiopian society. You can't help but sadly laugh reading about money spent by the donors on sending Bibles to the hospital while the cash-strapped hospital desperately needs equipment and medications. The lack of resources leading to the necessity of excellent physical exam skills combined with some ingenuity was really interesting. And the stark contrasts between medicine in the US and Ethiopia were fascinating as well, reminding me of the stories I hear from the physicians who go to practice medicine in Africa for a while - surreal and fascinating and yet painfully real, with stark realities of poverty dictating medical care.“God will judge us, Mr. Harris, by--by what we did to relieve the suffering of our fellow human beings. I don't think God cares what doctrine we embrace.” Now, when stripped from the medicine component, the story itself did not fascinate me much. Mainly - because I did not care much for Marion, the narrator. His narrative voice is very monotone, as well as quite judgmental and, frankly, quite irritating. After hundreds and hundreds of pages listening to his voice, I still did not feel that I knew the character much. His neverending obsession with Genet was bordering on unhealthy and frightening. The subtle mystical elements of the connection between the twins Shiva and Marion are hinted at but never really followed through; we never really get to see much of it but are told without showing. Finally meeting his father did not have the expected emotional effect, either.The pacing was uneven as well, with the story dragging through the long sections of the narrative. And a word of warning - the description of a certain intercourse in this book is one of the most nausea-inducing things that I've ever read. Way too many bodily fluids are involved for my comfort level - and I HAVE been on the receiving end of way too many bodily fluids as a work hazard. So yeah. Be warned.The female characters were not very well-developed and weak. Genet felt caricaturish at times. Hema had potential, but did not quite live up to it. The rest of female characters are kinda just there. But in all honesty, male characters were not that much better. Marion and Shiva's surrogate father, Ghosh, is the only character who I felt actually came to life in this book. He is shown as intelligent, kind, and compassionate, and yet still flawed. He is the only character for whom I actually cared at all. “Life, too, is like that. You live it forward, but understand it backward. It is only when you stop and look to the rear that you see the corpse caught under your wheel.” --------------------------------------------The verdict: 3 stars for the beautiful descriptions of medicine and a notable quotability factor, but not as much for the story itself. I am not sure whether it will appeal to a non-medical person - maybe if you have more of sentimentality than I do.“According to Shiva, life is in the end about fixing holes. Shiva didn't speak in metaphors. fixing holes is precisely what he did. Still, it's an apt metaphor for our profession. But there's another kind of hole, and that is the wound that divides family. Sometimes this wound occurs at the moment of birth, sometimes it happens later. We are all fixing what is broken. It is the task of a lifetime. We'll leave much unfinished for the next generation.”