‘Cutting for Stone’ is a novel too big in scope in some ways and too narrow in others to be a great novel. That said, it is a very good novel, and worth reading because it has elements that are not easily found.
It is the story of two brothers, born to a father who is unable to love them and a mother who dies having them. They are twins, born literally tied together. They have to be surgically seperated at birth. It is the last act their father does for them as children. The book is set in Ethiopia and the cultural and political landscape are par tof the story, as is the state of medical care in the country.
The boys, Marion and Shiva, are raised by two physicians who knew both their parents, and they raise thema s their own. Ghosh teaches Marion and Hema teaches Shiva–and this is the path in life they take, one that divides the brothers. The story is well told, and it is strongest when it is medical. The emotional side is not as well attended to, though I do agree with the New York Times reviewer, that the author cares too much, not too little. He can’t stand far enough back to allow us to see what he sees. Genital mutilation and post-partum incontinence are attended to within the story, but we don’t get enough of the back story in either case to form opinions on what the author wants us to know as a result of this story. In some ways, I want to hear Shiva’s side of the story to make better sense of what happened. The same goes for the Eritrean part of the story–where do the characters stand? It is hard to say, which is a weakness of the book. None-the-less, this is a new and different voice worth watching.