Title: 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
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.
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?
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
If you liked Cutting for Stone, try...
Desirable Daughters by Bharati Mukherjee
Beneath the Lion’s Gaze by Maaza Mengiste
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy