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Samuel Johnson wrote one of the world’s best books and set it in Ethiopia. His History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia is peppered with insightful and pithy commentary on the foibles of humans who, for example, believe happiness possessed by others to keep alive the hope of obtaining it for themselves.1 To say that Abraham Verghese’s entertaining novel, Cutting for Stone, about two generations of surgeons in Ethiopia and the USA, has better characterisation and plot structure than Dr Johnson’s smaller work but fails to rise to the same stature, does neither an injustice.
Abraham Verghese is a professor of medicine at Stanford University California and a writer of books, essays and short stories, who was born and brought up by Indian parents in Ethiopia. This is a well-crafted novel and Verghese is meticulous in acknowledging his sources, including those for some of the work’s best lines: “I owe you the sight of morning” for instance, and “squared her shoulders to the unloveliness”.
Verghese draws on surgical emergencies with which he is obviously familiar to create dramatic pivot points in his narrative. The first is the traumatic birth, at the Ethiopian Missing (sic) Hospital, of the conjoined male twins Shiva and Marion …
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