Cutting for Stone

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

The question I hate the very most of all book-related questions is, “What’s it about?” The question is too broad; to answer it accurately requires a retelling of the book word for word. In one sense, every work of fiction is “about” its plot. In Cutting for Stone, conjoined twins are born to a nun and a surgeon working in Ethiopia in the middle of the 20th century. Their mother dies in childbirth. Their father, traumatized by events surrounding their birth, loses his mind and leaves the twins behind. Surgically separated at birth, the novel shows the twins navigating issues of identity, family, and safety as their country is thrown in to one upheaval after another.

A novel is also “about” the themes it addresses. In an interview posted on, Verghese suggests that geography shapes destiny, and that this book examines how the immigrant deals with loss and separation. What better vehicle to examine separation and loss than through orphaned, formerly-conjoined twins?

The themes a reader sees varies from reader to reader. While I love Verghese’s notion of geography as fate, I read this  novel as a redemption novel. The characters in this novel are placed in inhumanly painful situations. These characters are all good people doing their best, but the are only human. They make mistakes — terrible, awful mistakes– and are slow to forgive. Peace and balance are restored to these characters only through acts of forgiveness. The separation and loss Verghese speaks of in his interview are ultimately replaced by unity and restoration, and through those, the perditioned soul is redeemed.

A few of my favorite excerpts from this book:

We come unbidden into this life, and if we are lucky we find a purpose beyond starvation, misery, and early death which, lest we forget, is the common lot.


[He] understood for the first time that having a child was about cheating death. Children were the foot wedged in the closing door, the glimmer of hope that in reincarnation there would be some house to go to, even if one came back as a dog, or a mouse, or a flea that lived on the bodies of men.

Last one:

The key to your own 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.

So that’s what it’s about.


3 thoughts on “Cutting for Stone

  1. I love reading your writing. I can hear your voice in your prose. Thanks for sharing. This book as you describe it goes perfectly with my graduate novel class — and is way out of my comfort zone!

  2. Oh, I hope you use it! It is so rich. There’s ample room for multicultural, postcolonial, ecocritical, feminist, Freudian, and Marxist readings — and probably more. 🙂 I almost didn’t write a post about this one because there was just SO MUCH to say and I didn’t want to leave anything out. But it’s too good a book to leave unpraised. Good luck with your class!

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