“Ammachi, when I come to the end of a book and I look up, just four days have passed. But in that time I’ve lived through three generations and learned more about the world and about myself than I do during a year in school. Ahab, Queequeg, Ophelia, and other characters die on the page so that we might live better lives.”
Cutting for Stone is a brilliantly written book though I have to admit I was a bit too off-mood to appreciate it for what it was. There are many things I could say about that book that were really well done such as: the writing, the character dynamics and the way in which theme and history were interwoven into the plot. Honestly though, when it comes to the Oprah Book Club Pick, The Covenant of Water, it is pretty much the same deal. I started off a little bit wobbly and not knowing whether I should like the book or not and then, I ended up really enjoying it. One thing that I can always say about Abraham Verghese books are that they are novels you can really sink your teeth into. At almost 750 pages long, Abraham Verghese has really outdone himself with this one. The beginning is shocking but slow, and honestly that is as negative as this review is going to get because it is bloody brilliant.
I think I have clocked a technique when it comes to Abraham Verghese novels. The first few chapters are very anticlimatic because of the fact they are so very concerned with atmosphere and background. This I can say is not a fault of his as an author, but a fault of mine for not giving him a chance when I read him the first time. Now, with this novel I am starting to see it and value it at the same time. An epic of a novel, I realise why this needs to be done to keep the reader feeling throughout the text.
Our story starts off at the turn of the century in Southern India. A young girl is about to get married to a widower more than twice her age and, on top of that, he already has a young son. Hiding secrets is one thing, but the secret that her husband is hiding about a family affliction is dangerous and terrifying as she must witness a beloved member of her new unit get washed away like rain. Throughout the first part of this story, there are constant references to what the secret is but you only really find out at the end of that very first section. It genuinely makes you frightened for the rest of the book.
As we move around the novel, we become accustomed to other characters such as the man practising surgeon named Digby who moves to Southern India, the Swedish doctor, the daughter of the main character and the rest of her growing family. As they become more and more familiar to us, we are left wondering about the family secret and what it holds for those closest to her. One of the most fascinating things that we learn about her family is that they are Christians descended from the first ever Christians converted in the area by Saint Thomas. This makes faith a strong aspect of their characters and the way in which the symbol of the Bible is explored, especially when the protagonist finds it amongst a young boy's things that belonged to his mother - we can see that everything about belief must be strong in order for there to be recovery after grief.
This book might be long-winded and written in a slow, almost overtly descriptive manner, but if there is one thing that is certain it is that the descriptive writing only adds to the flavours of the novel. There are different places at different times and different political backgrounds for different seasons and Verghese gives us a great tour of all of them. Though I can say I spent more time on this novel than probably any other novel I have read this year, I can say that the book is definitely worth the long time it takes to read and immerse yourself into the lives of these very different characters. As they converge, the story makes more and more sense.