I have this theory… Oftentimes, I opt to read nonfiction books because they are easy to relate to, easy to get through, and because I think that nonfiction books are more consistently good.
But if I’m being honest, fiction is my true love. Though some novels are too dense or too unimportant, un-relatable, some are extraordinary. Fiction books may not be as consistent, but when they’re good, they’re great.
And every once in a while, a novel tend to sneak up and surround me in its quiet embrace. What starts as simply another book turns into a mild obsession. I read while I walk to work, I read on the train, I read while hanging out with my friends. I carry the book around me even when I’m not reading it. Without it, I feel like I’m missing a limb.
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese is equal parts comforting and lovey-dovey, but also harshly realistic and honest about the mistakes of fate. And while it took me more than a month to finish (Eek!), I blame working weird hours and not the book itself.
It begins in Ethiopia with the births of two conjoined twins, and follows one—Marion—through his loss, his love, his naivety, struggle, and his journey home—wherever that may be. It’s a carefully crafted, “Hero’s Journey”-esque book, rich with historic detail (real and imagined) and personal experience. The author, himself a doctor from Ethiopia spent years interviewing and researching a variety of subjects, and his thorough work is evident.
But what takes Cutting for Stone to the level of greatness isn’t the careful compiling of historical facts; it’s the careful compiling of sentences.
Sometimes the words in his book read more like poetry than narrative, which is exactly what makes the book so engrossing. In his “Acknowledgements,” Verghese credits many phrases to authors, poets, experiences, even Shakespeare. He put in just as much work an effort into the crafting and presentation of his words as to his story—something, as a writer, I can’t help but be in awe of.
Marion’s story, written by anyone else, would be sad but forgettable, good. But paired with Verghese’s carefully chosen diction, it’s great.