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Book Discussion Questions: Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

Cover of Cutting for StoneTitle: Cutting for Stone
Author: Abraham Verghese
Page Count: 688 pages
Genre:  Literary Fiction,  Family Sagas
Tone: Haunting, Moving, Richly Detailed

Summary from publisher:
Marion and Shiva Stone are twin brothers born of a secret union between a beautiful Indian nun and a brash British surgeon. Orphaned by their mother’s death and their father’s disappearance, bound together by a preternatural connection and a shared fascination with medicine, the twins come of age as Ethiopia hovers on the brink of revolution.

Moving from Addis Ababa to New York City and back again, Cutting for Stone is an unforgettable story of love and betrayal, medicine and ordinary miracles—and two brothers whose fates are forever intertwined

SPOILER WARNING:
These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points if you have not read the book.

“Writing has many similarities to the practice of internal medicine. Both require astute observation and a fondness for detail.”

“At heart I am a physician. It is my first and only calling. As a physician, things move me, and one way to talk about these things is to write about them. For me writing and medicine are not different parts, it is seamless, the same world view: fiction and healing promote the same cause.
~Abraham Verghese

1. As you reflect on this complex story, which scenes stand out in your memory? Why did those particular moments have such impact?

2. At the end of chapter 31 (379-380), Marion reflects on his home, including this statement: “I felt ecstatic, as if I was at the epicenter of our family…” Does this seem arrogant or appropriate for an adolescent to say? In what ways is Marion the epicenter of the book?

3. In what ways is Shiva something of a mystery to the reader? [Also consider, “’What I do is simple. I repair holes,’ said Shiva Praise Stone. Yes, but you make them, too, Shiva.” (577)]

4. Talk about Marion’s parting from his family when he is forced to leave the country (444).

5. Think about how the character of Genet is portrayed at different points. [e.g., “I wanted out of Africa. I began to think that Genet had done me a favor after all.” (457) and “she found her greatness, at last, found it in her suffering.” (601)] How is she integral to the story? How do you feel about her?

6. For a story that most often takes place in small settings with few people, somehow it has an epic “feel”. How is that?

7. When Ghosh returns from prison (350-351), he and Marion talk about a well-known story about a man who couldn’t rid himself of his slippers.

“The slippers in the story mean that everything you see and do and touch, every seed you sow, or don’t sow, becomes part of your destiny.”

Ghosh then shares about his past and has a lesson for Marion.

“I hope one day you see this as clearly as I did…The key to your happiness is to own your slippers, own who you are, own how you look, own your family, own the talents you have, and own the ones you don’t. If you keep saying your slippers aren’t yours, then you’ll die searching, you’ll die bitter, always feeling you were promised more. Not only our actions, but also our omissions, become our destiny.”

Do you agree? Are these sentiments borne out in the novel? What is the role of fate throughout?

8. In what ways is this book about legacy? About exile? Betrayal? Forgiveness?

9. Marion states that he became a physician not to save the world but to heal himself. Do you think he was healed in the end?

10. What do the female characters in the book reveal about what life is like for women in Ethiopia?

11. Did the medical detail add to the novel or detract from it?

12. The latter portion of the book contains commentary on medical practice in America, especially regarding foreign physicians (e.g., 492). Did this seem significant to you?

13. Did “The Afterbird” offer closure for you? For the characters? How did you react to its revelations?

14. Remember Stone’s favorite question? [What treatment in an emergency is administered by ear? words of comfort] How is this poignant, especially given Stone’s choices and manner?

15. What is the role of sexuality in Cutting for Stone? How would you characterize the scenes that are depicted, especially between Marion and Genet?

16. What romantic relationships are central to the story? How so?

17. Though the book earned excellent reviews, it wasn’t in nearly as much demand as it seems to be now. Why do you think that is? With over 600 pages, it isn’t an easy choice for book groups, but that doesn’t seem to be a concern. Did the length bother you?

18. Few works of fiction include a bibliography or an acknowledgment section which credits many literary allusions included in the story. Does this affect your opinion of the book?

19.Verghese said that his aim in writing Cutting for Stone was “to tell a great story, an old-fashioned, truth-telling story.” He has also said “my ambition was to write a big sweeping novel into which you could disappear, travel away as though in a space-ship, disappear, meet exciting people, and return to find that only a couple of days had passed in real life. That’s what happens to me when I am reading a good book.” In your opinion, did he succeed?

Other Resources

Lit Lovers book discussion questions
One Book One City resources
Video of Abraham Verghese discussing Cutting for Stone
Frequently asked questions answered by Abraham Verghese
Radio interview with Verghese on Ethiopia

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List: November 2014 Indie Next List

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Book Discussion Questions: The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht

Cover of The Tiger's WifeTitle: The Tiger’s Wife
Author: Téa Obreht
Page Count: 338 pages
Genre: Literary fiction
Tone:  Mystical, Haunting, Lyrical

Summary from publisher:
In a Balkan country mending from war, Natalia, a young doctor, is compelled to unravel the mysterious circumstances surrounding her beloved grandfather’s recent death. Searching for clues, she turns to his worn copy of The Jungle Book and the stories he told her of his encounters over the years with “the deathless man.” But most extraordinary of all is the story her grandfather never told her–the legend of the tiger’s wife.

 

SPOILER WARNING:
These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points if you have not read the book.

1. Did it bother you that there were no actual geographical or time period references?

2. How did the time-shifting aspects of the book affect your experience of the story?

3. Natalia and Zora were together on a mission trip when she finds out that her grandfather had died. Why doesn’t she tell Zora?

4. Zora is in a predicament. There is a malpractice case brought up against a man who is well connected in the medical community. Her dilemma is whether to “stick it to the man she despised for years and risking a career and reputation she was just beginning to build.” She tells Natalia that she wants to ask her grandfathers’ opinion. What advice do you think he would have given her? What would you do?

5. “Swear to me on your life that you didn’t know.” Why didn’t Natalia admit to her grandmother that she knew her grandfather was sick?

6. As Natalia and her grandfather are watching the elephant walk down the street in the middle of the night, Natalia said, “None of my friends will ever believe this.” Her grandfather replied, “The story of the war that belongs to everyone, but something like this, this is yours and belongs only to us.” What do you think he means by this?

7. There are so many references to The Jungle Book and Shere Khan in this novel. Do you see any parallels between Shere Khan of The Jungle Book and the tiger?

8. Why was Barba Ivan’s dog Bis painted by everyone?

9. Leandro understood that part of the tiger was Shere Khan but he has always felt some compassion for Shere Khan. Why do you think that is?

10. How did you feel reading the story from the tiger’s perspective?

11. There are many other animals in this story (parrot, dog, owl, bear). Does their presence have a deeper meaning?

12. Was Dure a good father?

13. Luko, Jovo and the blacksmith go out to kill the tiger after it was seen in the smokehouse. Why did Luko and Jovo tell everyone that the tiger killed the blacksmith and not admit that the gun backfired?

14. Natalia lived most of her life under either the threat of oncoming war or war itself. Would this state have an effect on the decisions one makes for them? How does the lack of a war then affect her?

15. Why do you think “Riki Tiki Tavi” is the deathless man’s favorite story in The Jungle Book?

16. The author said she intended to write the deathless man as more of a menacing character; instead, she felt, he ended up being almost comforting. Had she written that character in a different way, how do you think it would change the tone of the story?

17. Who is the deathless man? Does he exist?

18. Do you think Dr. Leandro, Natalia’s grandfather, is an honorable man? Why or why not?

19. Dr. Leandro placed a wager with the deathless man. Who do you think won? Should Dr. Leandro have paid his debt? If you think he lost the wager does his refusal to honor it change your opinion of him?

20. The second time Dr. Leandro saw the deathless man, there was a miracle by a waterfall. Dr. Leandro was by the waterfall to take care of the sick people that made their pilgrimage there. Gavran Gaile, a.k.a. the deathless man, was by the waterfall as well, and he was letting people know that their time was coming. “But that is what I do; that is my work to give Peace,” the deathless man had said. Do you think that knowing their time is coming gave the sick people peace?

21. Téa Obreht seems to present a character in a certain light, and then she offers background information. Did you find that the background information made you change your initial opinion of any of the characters? If so, which ones and why?

22. Luka takes the tiger’s wife to the smokehouse, ties her up, and leaves her there in hopes that the tiger will devour her. Two weeks later she shows up in town “with a fresh bright face and a smile that suggested something new about her.” What happened to Luka?

23. Why did the villagers hate the tiger’s wife? Why did mother Vera help the tiger’s wife?

24. What was your opinion of the apothecary?

25. Why did Natalia volunteer to take the “heart” to the crossroads and wait for the Mora?

26. What do you think happened to Dr. Leandro’s copy of The Jungle Book?

27. Was there any story or part of the book that particularly struck you?

Other Resources

Lit Lovers’ book discussion questions
Q&A video with Obreht Part One and Part Two
Video of PBS News Hour interview
Vanity Fair interview
Information on the breakup of Yugoslavia

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By Jenny, Readers' Advisor on October 8, 2014 Categories: Book Discussion Questions, Books, Literary