Cutting for Stone
By Abraham Verghese
Random House of Canada
This story opens in 1954 in a hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in the middle of a birthing of twins.
The scene takes place in a hospital called “Missing Hospital.”
It was intended to be “ Mission Hospital,” since it was supported by Churches in the United States, but distance and translation caused it to be known as “Missing.”
The birth is far from routine. The mother is a nun who has been serving as nursing assistant to Dr. Stone, a gifted surgeon.
Her pregnancy has been kept secret by the wearing of loose fitting garments. Who expects a Nun to be pregnant?
An added complication is that the twins are joined at the head by a small tube, a blood vessel, which must be severed.
The babies are three pounds each, and their mother is exhausted and near death.
This is a long and complicated story, more than 500 pages and is narrated totally by “Marion,” (one of the twins).
The second twin is named “Shiva.”
When the mother dies, Dr. Stone is heartbroken and does not even see the blessing of identical sons.
Dr. Hemlatha, the female obstetrician, who saved the babies, now becomes their mother. Dr. Stone leaves the county in despair. In a few months, Dr. Abhi Ghosh, marries Dr. Hemlatha and becomes a father to the boys.
The doctors of “Missing” hospital are resourceful and dedicated, often using old equipment.
Their donors in America have sent them a storeroom full of Bibles. How will these donors feel about the death of a nun dying in childbirth?
The two little boys grow up surrounded by medicine.
The identical twins, think and imagine in unison but grow to have very different traits. From a young age, Marion studies medical books and asks to observe operations.
Shiva, gentle and thoughtful, dislikes study, because he learns quickly and remembers everything.
He too is interested in medicine, but, like his adoptive mother, he is fascinated by obstetrics and oynecology.
Their caregiver during the work days, is Rosina, who eventually has a little girl named Genet.
Genet will be raised along with the boys, almost like a little sister, but abuse by her mother leads her to actions that will change this family forever.
This story told by Marion gives us a wonderful picture of the beauty of Ethiopia, the politics during the boys growing up years, and the necessity of Marion’s eventually fleeing the country. Genet has thrown her lot with revolutionaries and Marion is implicated.
Marion continues his Medical training in a Hospital in the Bronx, which specializes in gunshot wounds. He works long hours and sees little of America.
Finally he searches out the Ethiopian community in New York, and reconnects with Genet. It is the beginning of the end for one of the twins. Medical history is made but heartbreak is inevitable.
A compelling read, and an interesting picture of the country under Emperor Haile Selassie.
Peggy Freeman is a freelance writer living in Red Deer.