Book Review: Cutting for Stone

Cutting for Stone

Abraham Verghese

Vintage

688 pages

I know I have disappeared again, but I have now returned with a review for a book that will surely be numbered as one of my favorites for the year.  I had wanted to post a review soon after finishing it, but decided to hold off because my book club was meeting last week to discuss it and I often like to include the thoughts of my fellow members when posting my reviews.  Unfortunately, only one other member had finished the book, so a lot of good it did, waiting.

For those members who had not read it, I discovered quickly that providing a synopsis of Cutting for Stone is no easy feat.  Understand this—the book is of epic proportions.  At 600+ pages, I cannot fit any of it in a nutshell, but try it I will.  Mariam and Shiva are twin boys born in Ethiopia in the 1950s.  They are born to a mother who is a nun and promptly dies upon their birth, and a father who is a well revered surgeon in their small village, who quickly flees.  The toy boys are then raised by Hema, the village’s gynecologist, and Ghosh, the physician who becomes the surgeon after the disappearance of their real father, Thomas Stone.

So many issues come into play throughout the novel, and the ties that bind a family are questioned.  Shiva and Mariam, although close as two people can be, due to the fact that not only are they twins, but they also were born attached at the head, have a falling out in their teenage years, and the chasm between them quickly grows.  Shiva is somewhat of a genius, and in that sense he has cut himself off from the rest of the world and is unable to form meaningful relationships.  Mariam seems the more pragmatic of the two, at times, but also relies too much on his emotions.

My synopsis does little justice for Cutting for Stone, and barely gives the unknown reader a glimpse into the soul of this novel, but it’s close enough.  I would hate to ruin the experience for those of you who have yet to read it.  That being said, as you likely deduced, most of my fellow book club members did not make much headway.  A few of them just didn’t give themselves enough time.  In fact, my sister asked to borrow my copy three days before our meeting.  I explained to her that she would never be able to finish it in that amount of time!  There was also a member who put the book down for good midway through.  That was a bit shocking to me, because while I could understand how they beginning was a bit slow, I definitely was in it for good but the hundred page mark.  Different strokes for different folks, I guess.

The medical terminology and descriptions in this book are abundant.  Verghese is apparently a surgeon of some kind, and that is glaringly obvious in reading the book!  I actually was completely interested in the medical aspect of the book though, and I also love to be “grossed out”, so I had absolutely no problem with it.  Surprisingly enough, there was only one member of my book club that did seem bothered by it, and she was the only other one to finish the book.  I think she found it a bit polarizing.

Expect a rollercoaster with this one.  Your emotions will be toyed with (in a good way, I hope), while still being able to appreciate the wonderful writing and the lush landscape.

Other Reviews:

The Boston Bibliophile

Booking Mama

S Krishna’s Books

Farm Lane Books Blog

The Literate Housewife

Caribous Mom

Fizzy Thoughts

A Guy’s Moleskin Notebook

Lakeside Musing

I purchased this book . . . maybe from Barnes & Noble?!

Book Review: The Lonely Polygamist

The Lonely Polygamist

Brady Udall

W W Norton & Co

602 pages

Golden Richards is a gruff, middle aged man.  Upon meeting him, you would expect that he is a pretty typical guy, so most people don’t guess that he is a polygamist with four wives and countless children.  He is married to Beverly, Nola, Rose of Sharon and Tricia and they have so many children that I literally couldn’t keep track of them.

Although Golden has a huge family, luckily Udall chooses to focus on only three family members as the main characters of the book.

Golden: It was difficult for me to decide how I felt about Golden.  His family was falling apart at the seams, yet Golden refused to take responsibility and instead fled by working a job site in Nevada.  He is gone almost constantly and instead of going back home and seeking solace from his wives and children, especially Tricia, who is yearning for love and affection, Golden begins to develop feelings for his bosses wife Huila.

Tricia: Tricia is wife number 4.  She has been married to Golden for a couple of years and bore one child with him, a son that was stillborn.  Tricia has been yearning for a connection with her husband but he refuses to let her in and a chasm forms between them.  Tricia feels lost in the family and eventually forges a friendship with a young local man.  Eventually she must decide whether she wants to stay with Golden and the family or escape to a different life.

Rusty: Rusty is the prepubescent son of Golden and Rose of Sharon.  He doesn’t really have a place in the family.  He is the black sheep and doesn’t have a bond with any of his brothers or sisters, who often tease him.  He attempts to reach out to his mother, but she is battling her own demons and is unable to offer Rusty what he is seeking.  In order to gain attention from his family members, Rusty acts out in ways that get more and more destructive as the book goes on.

One interesting side note: I imagined Rusty as the chubby kid with curly red hair from The Sandlot.

I am a bit obsessed with the polygamist lifestyle right now, due solely to TLC’s show Sister Wives.  For those of you who have not seen the show, it is a reality TV program following polygamist Kody Brown and his four wives and numerous kids.  Sound familiar?  I couldn’t help but imagine Golden and his four wives as Kody, Meri, Janelle, Christina and Robin from Sister Wives!

Sister Wives aside, The Lonely Polygamist was a very different type of book that held my attention *for the most part*.  My biggest caveat was the length of the book.  I don’t have a problem with reading a 600 page book, but this one lost it in the middle.  There were a good one or two hundred pages that started to lag and made the book really monotonous.  By the time the ending came around, I was getting really bored.  I was lucky in that the ending came around just in time and really saved the book for me.

Speaking of the ending, I thought it was phenomenal.  I don’t want to give anything away, obviously, but being that we read this book for my book club (we have yet to discuss it, so I can’t speak to how my fellow book club members feel about the book), I loved how much food for thought the ending brought on.  I think it will lead to a great discussion.  In fact, one of my coworkers is in my book club and when she finished the book last week, we couldn’t wait and had to discuss the book straight away.

This is the type of book that you need to go into expecting to devote quite a bit of time and attention to.  It’s definitely an interesting look into a different type of family dynamic.

Other Reviews:

Both Eyes Book Blog

My mom purchased this book for me–wasn’t that nice of her?!

Book club pick for October/November 2010.

Book Review: The Likeness

The Likeness

Tana French

Penguin

512 pages

Detective Cassie Maddox is back!  She is working on the Domestic Violence squad after we last saw her on In the Woods but she isn’t living up to her full potential there.  This all changes when a young woman shows up dead.  Cassie is called to the scene and is disturbed to find that not only does the dead woman look exactly like her, but she is using Cassie’s alias of Lexie Madison from Cassie’s stint as an undercover drug agent.  Cassie’s former boss from when she worked undercover comes up with a scheme to have Cassie go and live Lexie’s life in order to try and discover who the killer(s) is. 

Cassie, now moonlighting as Lexie, is thrown into Lexie’s old life.  Lexie lives with four eccentric friends in an old home that is the inheritence of one friend, Daniel.  The five friends see one another as family and have a “no past” rule, where the are precluded from talking about anything that happened before they met one another.  Cassie immediately begins to form a connection with Lexie’s friends and, as time goes on, she comes to appreciate Lexie’s lifesyle and is so drawn to it she almost gives up her investigation in order to live her new life.

Let me start by saying that this book draws many parallels to Donna Tartt’s A Secret History, one of the best books I have ever read.  If you have not read it, you need to. 

The Likeness was a wonderful read.  French’s books tend to be lengthy, which can be off putting, but it has always been worth it.  Neither of her books even felt long because they are so engrossing.  My book club chose this book for our June meeting on my suggestion, and I worried a bit that none of them had ever read the first book.  Some of the members chose to read In the Woods first, while other just went with The Likeness.  The consensus was that it really didn’t matter which order you read them in, so that was interesting (and made me breath a sigh of relief that I hadn’t totally messed things up by siggesting this book when no one had read the first!).

Another fear I had was that, being a mystery, The Likeness wouldn’t lead to a good discussion. I would surmise that most mysteries would not lend themselves well to discussion, but, in this case I was dead wrong.  I would say that our discussion on this book may have very well been the livliest discussion we have ever had.  Two members of our group had not finished the book when we all convened, so we forced them to sit there and at least read through the climax because we were all anxious to discuss it!

The ending, obviously, caused a great debate.  What really happened, under what circumstances.  I also had a hard time swallowing the fact that Lexie’s friends were led to believe that she was still alive when she had, in fact, died.  Morally, I didn’t agree with the deception.  I can see why it made sense in order to discover the culprit.  Does the end justify the means?  I don’t think so in the case, but obviously it made for a great storyline.

I am anxious to get my hands on French’s new book to see how Cassie evolves and what new caper she is a part of.  No one does literary mysteries better than French, and if you haven’t read her books, I urge you to do so.

Other Reviews:

Book Addiction

Ms Bookish

Steph & Tony Investigate!

books i done read

I borrowed this book from my local library.

Book Review: Amy and Isabelle

Amy and Isabelle

Elizabeth Strout

Vintage

303 pages

Most readers of this blog are probably familiar with Elizabeth Strout, if only because you are aware that she wrote Olive Kitteridge.  Now, I have yet to read it, but I have heard many praises on its behalf, so when I came across Amy and Isabelle on the shelf at my library and noted that Strout was the author, I decided to go ahead and give it a try.

Amy and Isabelle was published in 1998 and it’s the story of a mother and daughter struggling to accept one another.  Amy is in high school and for the most part she’s a well behaved kid.  Isabelle and Amy live in a mill town, Shirley Falls , where Isabelle works at the mill as a secretary.  She is a single mother who claims to have been widowed when Amy was a small child, but immediately it becomes obvious that Isabelle is trying to hide her past.

Their fragile relationship falls to pieces when Isabelle discovers that Amy has been carrying on an affair with her math teacher, Mr Robertson.  Isabelle is disgusted, embarrassed and angry that her daughter would carry on a sexual relationship with her teacher.  Meanwhile, Amy believes that she is in love with Mr Robertson, and that the feeling is mutual.  She seems to ignore the growing discord between herself and her mother because she just doesn’t care. 

Amy’s naivete is believable for a teenager.  Her misconception that she and Mr Robertson are in love and that he is going to be there for her are obviously pipe dreams.  Amy just can’t accept reality.  Isabelle is very similar in this regard.  She is in love with her boss, Avery, and continually drums up fantasies about the two of them much as Amy does with Mr Robertson.  Yet, when her daughter gives into her sexual urges, Isabelle reacts above and beyond what I would expect of the average parent.  She can no longer look at Amy without full-blown animosity and contempt.  As the story continues on, Isabelle’s past begins to shed light on why she reacts in such a strong manner and eventually Isabelle is able to attempt to overcome her hatred towards Amy. 

I think Isabelle’s biggest problem is that by moving to Shirley Falls , she recreated her past by making herself a widow with a small child.  She had spent such time and energy on this façade, that she had to be in control of at all times, that to see Amy behave in such a reckless manner, she instantly becomes consumed with jealousy and rage.  Unfortunately, she let her emotions dictate her relationship with her daughter.  Eventually, Isabelle is able to become more and more comfortable with her co-workers and at that point she becomes more accepting of both Amy as well as of her past. 

I found Amy and Isabelle to be an interesting novel because of the tenseness between mother and daughter as well as in the way they were eventually able to begin to overcome the hurdles in their relationship.  I have wanted to read Olive Kitteridge for quite some time now—it just happened that Amy and Isabelle entered the picture first.  Now I am even more anxious to see what more Strout has to offer.

Other Reviews:

The Written World

The Sleepy Reader

I borrowed this book from my local library.

The Sunday Salon

 

My Sunday Salon this week will be pretty condensed.  Our household computer has an awful virus.  Hopefully it is remedieed soon but in the mean time I am typing on my fiance’s laptop.  I am not a fan of laptops and it sucks not having my normal computer with all my information on it, so until my computer is fixed, I doubt I will be on the computer much.

This week, my reading was as follows:

I finished The Book of Fires, by Jane Borodale

I read Saving CeeCee Honeycutt

Because my wedding will be in New Orleans (5/13/2010), I had compiled a list of New Orleans based reading for everyone to choose from for the trip.  Everyone that will be in New Orleans for the wedding got a copy of the list, so we’ll see if anyone is as enthusiastic as me!  I doubt I will read much from the list until the wedding is a little closer, but I did go ahead and read Images of America: New Orleans Cemeteries, by Eric Brock.  My fiance wasn’t too thrilled at the prospect of traipsing through cemeteries on our honeymoon, but the architecture and grandeur of the cemeteries down there can’t be ignored!

I am now reading The Gathering, by Anne Enright.  It was the winner of The Man Booker prize in 2007 and will be my first book towards The Man Booker Reading Challenge of 2010. 

Since I am a little remiss in posting my Library Loot, I will go ahead and include it now.  I got three books this week:

I had to get The Shack for my book club but I admit I am unsure about it.  I have heard that the story is ok, but that the writing technique is very subpar.  I will give it a chance but I don’t intend on reading it all the way through if what I have heard turns out to be true.

How is your Sunday?  Anyone getting a lot of reading done?  Unfortunately, I am not–I wish I could spend the whole day reading!