Cutting for Stone

IMG_1614How in the world did I get through 2009 and didn’t read or hear about this book?  It was simply AMAZING!
What’s it about?  Well, it’s about culture, love, separation, devotion, betrayal, family, and so many other things.  It’s hard to talk about this book without giving away the plot and I don’t like writing reviews full of spoilers, but here’s the overall story.

It’s the 1950s in an Ethiopian mission hospital where twin boys, Marion and Shiva Stone, are born out of a relationship between a young nun and an English surgeon.  There, the two boys grow up with two very different personalities, while their country is going through much governmental upheaval.  Be ready for meetings with fascinating characters, intriguing situations, beautifully described landscapes, smells of spiced Ethiopian dishes, medical procedures, much sadness, and even a bit of mystery.  All of this and more is recounted through India, Yemen, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and the United States.  In essence, it is a story of separation.  Cutting for Stone is epic, exuberant, a must read,  and even more so, if you are interested in this part of the world.

I could rave on and on about how great this book is but of course nothing is perfect.  Cutting for Stone has a few problems in my opinion.  Firstly, it is very heavy in detailed explanations of medical procedures.  If you’re not the squeamish type you won’t have a problem.  In my case, the birth of the twins had my imagination reeling.  I found that part pretty horrific, unfortunately I have a good imagination when the description is well done.  I pictured the scene a little too well.  However, these medical descriptions are very informative for laypeople.  Lastly, the novel falls down a bit in the first part.  The book consists of four parts.  Interestingly enough, parts 2,3, and 4 are not at all written in the same way as part 1.  I say thank goodness once I started to read part 2 the style had changed, otherwise, Verghese would have lost me forever.  Part 1 is written with a slight pretentiousness. It didn’t seem to entice me directly into the story.  The detail was colossal and overbearing; so distracting at times, I found it hard to decide what to focus on.  It just made me proceed reading cautiously and slower, but it was well worth it because by Chapter 11, which is the beginning of Part 2, I felt a welcome shift to the story.  The writing style was more literary and sensitive to my liking.  Sometimes as readers we have to work a little to enjoy the full extent of the reading experience of some books.  This is a good reason not to give up too quickly.  (Part 2 started on page 113.)

Abraham Verghese was born in Ethiopia in 1955.  His Indian parents were working as teachers in Ethiopia then.  Verghese began his medical training near Addis Ababa.  He later joined his parents in the United States to continue his studies after Emperor Haile Selassie was ousted from power in Ethiopia.  Being a foreign medical graduate at the end of his studies, he only found internships in less popular hospitals and communities.  He wrote about these experiences in his first articles in the New Yorker.  They were called The Cowpath to America.  Verghese continued to practice medicine and to write and published two memoirs called The Tennis Partner and My Own Country, where Verghese writes about being a doctor in a small town in eastern Tennessee.  there he and the town are faced with their first AIDS patient.  The Tennis Partner is about a very close relationship between a doctor and a recovering drug addict intern.  The ritual of playing tennis brings them closer together.  Empathy for the patient and bedside medicine are issues Verghese felt have been stifled among medical training.  He was asked to join Stanford University in 2007 as a tenured professor because of his interest in bedside medicine and his work as a reputable clinician.  Cutting for Stone is fiction, but the theme of patient empathy is a strong element that Verghese emphasizes in many instances in the story, not to mention, there are some similarities with his life.  Check out the video below because you’ll get an excellent insight into what Verghese was trying to depict in Cutting for Stone, very thought-provoking.  Enjoy!

Title: Cutting for Stone

Genre:  Adult fiction/Historical fiction

Published:  2009

Edition:  Vintage Books

Pages:  534

My Rating: * * * * *

Favorite quote:  “When a man is a mystery to himself you can hardly call him mysterious.” (Cutting for Stone, p. 31)

+732

The Memory of Love

After finishing The Memory of Love late last Friday night, I was truly sad to see page 445 arrive.  It seemedIMG_1139 to come so quickly for me.  I started reading on Wednesday and read non-stop anytime I was free through to Friday.  I could have just been pushed by time since I was discussing it with my book club on Saturday, but actually I just didn’t want to do anything else besides read this book.  I really didn’t want that passionate story of memory to end.

The Memory of Love is a story that takes place in the West African country of Sierra Leone.  The main characters are Kai a brilliant surgeon, Elias an aging academic, and Adrian a British psychologist.  It’s through the relationships of these three men that we follow their personal stories and memories along with the tragic incidents from Sierra Leone’s troubled political past and growth.   The faculty by which the mind stores and remembers information is one of the essential themes of the story.  The past can be so tragic that one’s only means of survival is to bury that tragedy deep within and push the little that is left of oneself forward.

“The memories come at unguarded moments, when he cannot sleep.  In the past, at the height of it, he had attended to people whose limbs had been severed.  Working with a Scottish pain expert years later, he treated some of those patients again.  They complained of feeling pain in the lost limbs, the aching ghost of a hewn hand or foot.  It was a trick of the mind,……the nerves continued to transmit signals between the brain and the ghost limb.  The pain is real, yes but it is a memory of pain.” (The Memory of Love, p.184)

This book isn’t plot driven.  It has no real beginning, middle, or end.  It’s life.  It’s survival.  This book will teach you about Sierra Leone’s history and culture.  The first one hundred pages left me a little frustrated because Forna was giving me information, but not as I was anticipating it.  I soon stopped trying to will the book into what I wanted and began to accept and appreciate the story Forna was trying to tell me.  Beautifully written and always with phrases that are exact and perfect for each situation, there are lessons to be learned through out the novel.

Forna writes the three male characters with absolute realism.  Not at any moment did I feel a feminine voice ringing through.  I would have to say that this is a book about men,  since the female characters were minor and not very vocal.  Their roles were to bring the male characters’ stories full circle.  Reading about the habits of the people in Sierra Leone was enlightening, as was unfortunately hearing about the atrocities that happened to its people.

Forna-Aminatta-e1410397047138Aminatta Forna is a Scottish-born British writer, raised between the UK and Sierra Leone.  The Devil that Danced on the Water, a memoir, was her first published book in 2003.  It discusses the imprisonment and later death of her father due to his political involvement.  Her first fiction novel is called Ancestors Stones and was published in 2006 and won her the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award in 2007.  The Memory of Love won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 2011 and was shortlisted for the Orange Prize and others.  I’m looking forward to reading The Devil that Danced on the Water and Ancestors Stones.

Book Club reactions:

Everybody raved about it.  Some also complained about the first 100 pages being difficult because they couldn’t figure out who was speaking (story is told from multiple points of view and switches from first to third person frequently) nor could they figure out where the story was taking place specifically.  They marveled over Forna’s capacity to describe situations and places, as well as her poignant writing.  We also discussed at length her background and how Forna feels as comfortable in the UK as she does in Sierra Leone.  We all came to the conclusion that showed considerably in The Memory of Love because of the authentic descriptions of Sierra Leone but also of Adrian Lockheart and his reactions to things he saw there and descriptions of his family back home in England.  We all agreed we were interested in reading more of her books, specifically The Devil that Danced on the Water.

If you’ve read Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for Stone you’ll probably be interested in reading The Memory of Love.

The Best Books of 2013

Well now that we’ve started 2014 and I’ve had the time to really reflect on my reading experience of 2013, I feel that it was pretty darn mediocre.  I’d hoped to read more books that would wow me but that wasn’t the case.  It was if I chose my books because they just fell in my lap.  That’s not how I want to proceed with my book choices this year.  You’ve already seen a select few of the big books I plan on reading this year, but just know that there will be more engaging and thought-provoking titles added to that list.

My reading goals of 2013 comprised:

1. reading more works of people of color

2. reading more classics

3. reading graphic novels

4. reading out of my comfort zone

I guess two out of four ain’t bad.  I managed to do one and three, but only really read one book that was a little out of my comfort zone.  So I know now what I need to concentrate on this year.  I’d like to have a well-rounded reading year but most of all I want to read more books that really speak to me, move me.  2014 is the year of quality! I hope.

So, in no particular order, let’s take a look at my top ten best books of 2013:

Firstly we have the books by authors of colour or about people of color:

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Well as you can see that’s half of my favourites list.  All I can say is these five books really stuck with me and enlightened my reading experience as well as taught me some things.  I was taken aback by the passages in Black Like Me.  The descriptions written by John Howard Griffin, a white man who was just being a black man for a few months struck me to my core.                                   If Beale 

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Street Could Talk weighed on me heavily as well reading about the injustices of the seventies, while in the back of my mind knowing these situations are still happening today.  Cutting for Stone was that epic African novel that surprised me at every page.  I really couldn’t anticipate what was going to happen next or where the author was leading me.  I felt like I’d traveled stretches of kilometres to Africa to  meet and follow Marion and Shiva from their beginnings to adulthood.  That was a rich and informative reading experience that taught me a lot about Ethiopia, a country that I almost visited over sixteen years ago.  Kindred took me back to the days of slavery, filling me with fear and disorienting me in a world where the codes didn’t correspond to me or Dana the main character.  Lastly, but not least The Cutting Season brought me back to my home state of Louisiana. The story brought out anticipation and fear of the unknown – who killed that young woman on the plantation grounds called Belle Vie?  I could feel the heat, the humidity, and smell the earth.  Darkness engulfed me and Caren the main character.  Running through it for fear of what she might find or worse what or who might be waiting for her.

The French Lieutenant’s Woman was the only classic I read last year.  That is if you don’t count Harry Potter and the Philosopher’ Stone and If Beale Street Could Talk.  Those two could technically be considered modern classics.  Ok enough of me trying to stretch my non-existent list of read classics.  In spite of it all,  I can thank my 56034book club for choosing this one.  For without them, I’m not really sure when I would have read it, in spite of it being on my physical and mental TBR for aeons.  I could also place this one under number four of my reading goals because it definitely got me out of my comfort zone.  In the beginning I didn’t think I’d make it through, but at the halfway mark something changed.  I became more invested in the story, not to mention that the writing style changed for the better.  I also started to get used to those omniscient footnotes that lead me through the story that was going on above like a dog on a leash.  Undeterred by it all I finished and loved it!  Now that doesn’t often happen to me.  I usually give up if I can’t get into a book by page 150.  It was a worthwhile reading experience and I persevered to the end!  So I definitely have to read more classics this year.

1261125351GiFItYmkLThe next two novels were my comic relief of the year.  I don’t often pick up comical books and that’s probably because it’s not a genre that I’m really familiar with.  I was compelled to pick up Where’d You Go Bernadette  since everybody was talking about it in the blogosphere and about its unorthodox style of being written in email and letter form.  I like epistolary so I thought why not.  It turned out to be a great choice.  I read it in one afternoon and laughed out loud a bit.  Oh Bernadette! She was a mess!  I liked her though.  Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff Christ’s Childhood Pal was the same.  It took me longer to read but boy did I have some laughs.  The wittiness of that novel is just simply brilliant!  It’s a must read if you haven’t gotten to it yet.

Now you know I’m not that over the moon about Young Adult novels and any time I read one it’s so that I can41WvR8-CBUL suggest it to the students I tutor in English or to my daughters, and of course because I suspect it might be good.  I ran across Speak because I saw a couple of bloggers talking about it.  I read it in one sitting and fell in love with the way the story was told but most of all with Melinda’s voice.  Superb!  A reader couldn’t ask for a better narrator, especially a young adult reader.

12280827Last but not least, my absolute favourite and best read of 2013 was The Sense of an Ending.  What a fantastic way to talk about memory!  I got so much from this little tiny 150-page book.  Unbelievable! There are so many themes packed into this book.  I was asking myself what took me so long to pick up a novel by Julian Barnes.  Nevertheless, I finally did and it was also thanks to my book club.  Book clubs can bring out the best and sometimes the worst in one’s reading however in my experience it’s been great at 100%.  Check out this wonderfully woven story of middle-aged Tony after school, marriage, children, and divorce.  Memory can be deceiving after the fact and at times spot on…

Well that’s my wrap up of my top ten books of 2013.  I hope you enjoyed reviewing some of them with me.  Clicking the titles will take you to the reviews.  So how about you guys?  Was your reading year a 3.0-3.5 like mine or better?  Let me know below and don’t forget to include your favourite books of the year.  I love getting recommendations from you!  Happy reading y’all!