I have had Cutting for Stone on my shelf for a long, long time, and every time I needed a new book to read, I resisted it. I don’t know why. Maybe it was on too many ‘great books’ lists, and I was stubbornly refusing to read something just because a whole bunch of smartly literate people told me I would enjoy it.
Maybe the blurbs made it sound, with their talk of betrayal and and love, brotherhood and ordinary miracles, a little like Kite Runner. Kite Runner was a book I could live in, but not in an easy, carefree manner. I lived in that book and came out scalded and changed. Was that what Cutting for Stone promised, too?
If so, I wasn’t sure I was quite ready to take the plunge.
Whatever the reason, once every couple of months, I would take Cutting for Stone off the shelf and consider. And then I would put it back.
But last week, I returned a stack of books to the library, and came home determined to at last tackle the waiting books on the shelves. And Cutting for Stone was the first book waiting.
I’m guessing I may be the last person in the world to discover this book, so it will be old news that it’s the story of mirror twins Marion and Shiva Stone, born in sadness, abandoned by their stunned and grieving father, raised by loving surrogates in Ethiopia. They sleep facing each other, foreheads touching; they communicate in special twin telepathy. But they are very different people.
Marion narrates, and he is humble and self-deprecating, so I am almost ready to agree that he’s a bumbler, kind of a fool, maybe. And then I weigh the evidence. The preponderance of friends. The compassionate time spent with Tsige when her baby is clearly dying, and she is desperately alone. The trust Ghosh places in the boy, and the confidence Hema has in him–she does not worry that Marion will, always, do the right thing.
That makes it very hard for her to accept and forgive when she believes Marion has done very, very wrong.
But it wasn’t Marion: it was Shiva who set the wheels in motion by his seduction of Genet. Paths were solidified, and turning back was not an option. Genet would be a terrorist; Shiva would stay at home. Marion would take his brokenness and disillusion to the United States, where he would thrive, meet his birth father, and reunite with Tsige and Genet, and the final reconciliation with Shiva would be staged.
The humility of the narrator makes reading about shocking actions and incidents of great import seem smoothly ordinary.
We readers bring ourselves to the books we read; I live with sensors wide open to the phenomenon of autism. And so it struck me that Shiva, who amassed great knowledge but would not bother answering questions put to him at school, was an autistic genius. Shiva didn’t much care about other people’s feelings. As a teen, curious about sex, he set out to couple with as many women as possible. Sometimes he lied about being Marion to be intimate with women who loved his brother. And then he would move on, oblivious to the feelings and the actions he set in motion. The interests of other people did not concern him.
His own interests, though, consumed him. And so, as an apprentice to Hema, he learned as much as he could about female fistula, a debilitating condition that happened, most often, to girls who had been abused, forced too young, brutally mutilated. The action wrecked their insides, caused urine to dribble, infections to start, odors to rise, and disgusted backs to turn. Injured against their wills, the fistula caused them to be shunned and derided.
Shiva and Marion see a girl with this condition when they are very young. Its correction become Shiva’s passion and obsession. He finds a way, without leaving home, without bothering with medical school, to work on fixing female fistula.
And he becomes, this brother who does everything wrong, famous for his work.
Intelligent, obsessed, self-focused–Shiva has many symptoms of an autistic mind.
Perhaps his birth father, Thomas Stone, has many of those symptoms, too. Perhaps the best thing Stone ever did for his sons was to abandon them.
There is betrayal in this story, but, if pushed, I would say Cutting for Stone is a story about forgiveness. All his life, in all of his righteous anger at abandonment, Marion searches for his father. And when he finds him, he wants to punish him, but it is not so simple. Sitting in his son’s darkened room, Thomas Stone tells his story–tells it starkly and unsparingly. And Marion’s vision shifts.
How could his father leave him?
How could he not?
Now Marion understands.
And he understands Genet’s long wander to what she hoped would be greatness. He knows why Hema kept things from him, and why his mother chose to be a nun, and then chose to be a mother.
Understanding punches a giant hole in anger, inflated. Understanding leads to eyes that meet and forgiveness being tempered across a field strewn with painful rubble.
There is loss and there is triumph in Marion’s story, in his deep cutting for Stone and in his discovery of something totally unexpected. I am not sure why it took me so long to open this book and read, but I’m very, very glad I finally did.