Sunday, January 29, 2012

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese, reviewed by Bonnie Bouwman

Random House, Canada, Trade Paperback, 688 pages, $22
Approximately three percent of all live births are twins. My own fascination with twins began in grade one when I encountered Tyler and Kyle, identical boys who spoke their own unique language which neither the teacher nor any of us were able to comprehend. In order to communicate with them, we resorted to body language. It was somewhat effective, but we knew that we singles were really outsiders, and frequently the butt of Tyler and Kyle’s private jokes. We called them by one name: the twins. Though individuals, they functioned as two halves of one person; simply put, they were, intriguing.

I was reminded of Tyler and Kyle while reading Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese’s first novel about Shiva and Marion Stone, conjoined twin sons of an Indian nun, who dies during their birth, and the British surgeon who disowns them. This gripping work tells how these boys, even though separated, first by surgery, then by continents and oceans, remain inexplicably interconnected throughout their lives until their destinies finally and irrevocably collide and remain united forever.

Verghese, himself a medical doctor and professor at Stanford, has given his readers fascinating medical information in language lay people can understand. There is the gynecologist's rule for estimating dilation: how wide – lime, lemon, orange or grapefruit? For the men, there's a detailed, step-by-step description of a vascectomy – don't try this at home folks! And for anyone who has faced life and death in a hospital setting there is the Eleventh Commandment: Thou shalt not operate on the day of the patient’s death.

Cutting for Stone is a story full of detailed description, vivid imagery and characters you will come to know, admire and loathe all in the same breath. Verghese weaves his plot from beginning to end as intricately and delicately as Thomas Stone’s nine fingers perform the ultimate redeeming surgery that matters most. This memorable novel will keep you enthralled and leave you with the certain knowledge that "fixing what is broken is indeed the task of a lifetime." I can assure you that it will leave you eagerly awaiting Verghese’s next novel.
Bonnie Bouwman has spent a lifetime observing people, a passion that is reflected in her creative memoir and short story writing. After decades of teaching children, she has begun to hone her own writing skills through creative writing courses. She is an avid book club member and proud library card holder. She is married to her husband Jake. They have five grown children and thirteen grandchildren, a close-knit, loving, but noisy bunch. Along with Virginia Wolf she believes that in order to write fiction, every woman needs a room of her own.

See Brian's full schedule here, including writing workshops and creative writing courses in Kingston, Peterborough, Toronto, Mississauga, Brampton, Georgetown, Oakville, Burlington, St. Catharines, Hamilton, Dundas, Kitchener, Guelph, London, Woodstock, Orangeville, Newmarket, Barrie, Gravenhurst, Sudbury, Muskoka, Peel, Halton, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.

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