This is the first installment in a regular feature in which I tell you what you ought to be reading, listening to, seeing, wearing, eating…..  Trust me on this. I know stuff.

Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese

Overview: Twins are born in Ethiopia, and come of age in the waning years of Emperor Haile Selaisse’s reign. Shiva and Marion Stone are the sons of a brilliant but distant British surgeon and an Indian nun, devoted, though broken by the circumstances of her life. Growing up on the grounds of a charity hospital, ShivaMarion (they think of themselves as a single being, though in separate bodies) find a vocation in medicine. When their lives diverge, they must find a way to overcome what has separated them, and become one being again.

Rubi sez: Holy bazoot! This is one of the most powerful and enveloping novels I’ve read in quite a while. Verghese’s characters, from the protagonists to the cameo roles, are beautifully drawn and deeply felt. It is clear that the author, a physician by training, has an honest and straightforward love for humanity; that love reaches the reader like an arrow to the heart, and pulls her right in.

In the narrative, there’s an element of magic in the twins’ connection to each other, and to their extended and thoroughly unorthodox family. There is also a willingness to give fate credit for the twists and turns, both pleasant and otherwise, that life presents to those who will really live it. Over and over, I was struck by these connections, some deep impacts, some glancing blows, thinking about how taking one road instead of another really can change life after life after life.

The novel also has a wealth of information on medicine, politics, culture, and history — all built into to the warp and weft of the story in a way that gives the characters a powerful context in which to unfold. The reader’s senses are fully engaged, as Verghese fleshes out his story with smells, sounds, sensations. You come away feeling that you have been where ShivaMarion have been.

In Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese has built a whole world for his readers. It is a world that delights, and one which you will find it difficult to leave behind.

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