Book Club Kits
Cutting For Stone
by Verghese, Abraham
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1. Abraham Verghese has said that his ambition in writing Cutting for Stone was to tell a great story, an old-fashioned, truth-telling story. In what ways is Cutting for Stone an old-fashioned story --- and what does it share with the great novels of the nineteenth century? What essential human truths does it convey?
2. Marion observes that in Ethiopia, patients assume that all illnesses are fatal and that death is expected, but in America, news of having a fatal illness always seemed to come as a surprise, as if we took it for granted that we were immortal (p. 396). What other important differences does Cutting for Stone reveal about the way illness is viewed and treated in Ethiopia and in the United States?
3. In the novel, Thomas Stone asks, What treatment in an emergency is administered by ear? The correct answer is Words of comfort. How does this moment encapsulate the book's surprising take on medicine? Have your experiences with doctors and hospitals held this to be true? Why or why not? What does Cutting for Stone tell us about the roles of compassion, faith, and hope in medicine?
4. To what extent does the story of Thomas Stone's childhood soften Marion's judgment of him? How does Thomas's suffering as a child, the illness of his parents, and his own illness help to explain why he abandons Shiva and Marion at their birth? How should Thomas finally be judged?
5. A passionate, unique love affair sets Cutting for Stone in motion, and yet this romance remains a mystery --- even to the key players --- until the very conclusion of the novel. How does the relationship between Sister Mary Joseph Praise and Thomas Stone affect the lives of Shiva and Marion, Hema and Ghosh, Matron and everyone else at Missing? What do you think Verghese is trying to say about the nature of love and loss?
6. Although it's also a play on the surname of the characters, the title Cutting for Stone comes from a line in the Hippocratic Oath: I will not cut for stone, even for patients in whom the disease is manifest; I will leave this operation to be performed by practitioners, specialists in this art. Verghese has said that this line comes from ancient times, when bladder stones were epidemic and painful: There were itinerant stone cutters --- lithologists --- who could cut into either the bladder or the perineum and get the stone out, but because they cleaned the knife by wiping their blood-stiffened surgical aprons, patients usually died of infection the next day. How does this line resonate for the doctors in the novel?
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