30 June 2011
Post 398: Cutting for Stone
Note: Spoiler alerts, but honestly, this is one of those books you have to experience for yourself anyway. Just revealing plot points to you isn't going to change your enjoyment of the book... unless you let it.
Those of you who follow my Twitter account may think I didn't like this book because I mostly mentioned the graphic descriptions of the surgeries. This is far from the case. Once I got over my general squeamishness, it was actually really interesting. I found the surgeries to be an intriguing narrative device. It would only make sense that a family of surgeons would be pieced together and focused around various medical procedures, both the ones they performed and have had performed.
In a way you can see the progression of the story as the surgeries move through each body. There are mentions of various ailments, and there were several major surgeries that were indicative of the place of the story and the completeness of the main character, Marion. For instance, we begin his story with birth, the birth of his twin brother, and the death of his mother. The pregnancy itself held complications, not only in circumstance, but also physical. Then it required the separation not only of fetuses from womb, but fetus from fetus as Marion and Shiva are conjoined at the head. After the surgery, Thomas Stone, the father of the twins, also removes himself from the family, unable to accept that the complications of the pregnancy along with his own panicked surgical actions resulted in the death of the woman he loved. The very symbolic nature of birth as a separation was very strongly represented by this surgery. But rather than bringing a family together, this birth literally tore people apart.
However, Marion and Shiva are adopted by two other doctors working at the Missing Hospital and live out fairly normal and active lives in Ethiopia. This portion of the narrative is littered with the surgeries of other people that both Marion and Shiva observe and how each reacts and learns. It is not until their sexual awakening that another major surgery takes place. Once again the surgery is a mirror to what is happening in the story. Shiva has sex with Genet, the girl Marion wants to marry and has already professed his love for, this results in Genet's mother arranging for a female circumcision. Although Shiva's actions do not prevent Marion from loving Genet, it obviously complicates things, much as the female circumcision will complicate Genet's gynecological and sexual health. Again, the surgery is a clear indication of the perversion of what should have been a natural and healthy relationship between Genet and Marion (at least according to Marion).
Then we have a long bit of surgical mentions and procedures regarding the liver. This is near the end of the book and Marion has reunited with his father. They are still on rocky terms, but if you think of the function of the liver, this is again an excellent symbol. The liver's job is to detoxify to body, and it is during this time where Marion learns to detoxify his relationship with his father and all of the hangups and abandonment issues involved with that. The final medical issue involved in the book results in Marion completing his journey to become a whole person. Meaning he finally accepts his past and accepts that his future requires a balance between his family, work, love life, etc.
As Verghese says,
"I am forced to render some order to the events of my life, to say it began here, and then because of this, that happened, and this is how the end connects to the beginning, and so here I am." Pg 19.
Just as surgeons are forced to render order in the chaos of the body, Verghese has found a means of determining where the beginning of the story is and how it connects to all the other plot lines. It only makes sense that Verghese would choose surgeries to connect the various parts of his story together. If we were all able to relate our passions back to our lives in such a way we might all get more out of it. An unexamined life and all that.
The Book Diary has a good short review, although I disagree with the need to shorten the book. Cats and a Book does a pretty good job of summarizing the story, but is very light on the review part.
LibsNote: Library copy via Overdrive Media.
*I really wish now that I had kept a running list of the surgeries and what was going on in the story so I could analyze this further. This might be a case of unintentional genius; otherwise, Verghese is even more of a master storyteller than he is given credit for.