This excellent read is about twin brothers, orphaned at birth by their mother’s death and their father’s sudden disappearance. Initially conjoined, and then surgically separated, the twins are identical in appearance. But that is where the similarities end. It soon becomes evident that they have very different personalities, and therein lies the root of the conflict that brews between them as the story unfolds, and eventually destroys their close relationship.
The setting is Ethiopia during the dictatorial reign of Emperor Haile Selassi (from 1930-74), birth-place of the doctor-author, and has thus not only an interesting setting, but also an interesting evocation of first-world medicine in a third-world environment.
The narrative, delivered by the first-born twin Marion, is peppered with medical anecdotes sometimes humorous, sometimes tragic – the latter a consequence of traditional tribal practices, ignorance, and simply seeking medical help too late. In this sense the book is a series of episodes within a larger framework: the relationship between the twin brothers, and their extraordinary medical upbringing with their doctor-adoptive parents who work at a small mission hospital in Addis Ababa. The anecdotes can sometimes be lengthy, and at the expense of the flow of the narrative, until the reader becomes accustomed to Verghese’s style.
The humour is abundant, with laugh-out-loud moments, and I enjoyed the sophisticated vocabulary and historical information in this book. The medical information becomes a celebration of the cruelty of illness, and the wonders of the human body. The reader learns about Indian and Ethiopian Culture, political drama including a brutally-crushed, failed coup, and sexual awakening.
For a book to succeed, it should be informative and interesting, passionate, grammatically correct with rich English usage, and have a jolly good storyline with clearly defined characters. Cutting for Stone has all of these elements, and motivates me to visit this mysterious ancient land. I enjoyed my journey with Verghese while reading this book, and highly recommend it.
1960 Ethiopian coup attempt
The 1960 Ethiopian coup was an attempted coup d’état staged in Ethiopia on 13 December 1960. Its goal was to overthrow Emperor Haile Selassie, who was on a state visit to Brazil at the time. Four conspirators, led by Germame Neway and his older brother Brigadier General Mengistu Neway, who was commander of the Kebur Zabangna (the Imperial Bodyguard), took several ministers and other important personages hostage and gained control of most of the capital city, Addis Ababa. The coup leaders declared the regime of Haile Selassie had been deposed and announced the beginning of a new, more progressive government under the rule of Haile Selassie’s eldest son, Crown Prince Asfaw Wossen, that would address the numerous economic and social problems Ethiopia faced. Despite a demonstration of support by the students of Haile Selassie University, other military units remained loyal to Selassie and crushed the coup. By 17 December, loyalists had regained control of Addis Abeba and the conspirators were either dead or had fled the capital.