Monday, 10 January 2011

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese


DATE READ: January 2011

NOTES: Cutting for Stone is a very ambitious novel which takes us to Ethiopia, Kenya, India and United States. Its main setting is a mission hospital in Addis Ababa run by an odd collection of medical staff. In an early dramatic episode twin boys are born and one of them, Marion, relates the strange symbiotic relationship that exists between him and his brother Shiva.

Verghese has created some wonderful characters – especially Hema and Ghosh who act as parents to the twins. The medical staff of the hospital in New York are particularly well drawn – in fact some of the best parts of the novels are set in United States. There is a Dickensian feel to the book – disappearances and reappearances, objects lost and found, betrayals, love and family loyalty.

The political situation (in both Ethiopia and US) is dealt with skilfully and intelligently. Surgical operations are described vividly – so this is not a book for the squeamish!

I thought the plot at the end was just too melodramatic and unbelievable but I can nonetheless understand the overall appeal of this book.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Hand Me Down World by Lloyd Jones


DATE READ: December 2010

NOTES: An African woman, working in a Tunisian hotel, gets pregnant by a German visitor. When she gives birth she is tricked into signing adoption papers and the child is taken away by the father. Her story is told through some of the many people she comes into contact in her search for her child – but when she at last is given her own voice many of these narrators turn out to be very unreliable. (Or perhaps it is the woman who chooses not to tell us the whole story?) The book is interesting inasmuch as the information the author withholds from us – we never know the real origins of the woman, nor her real name (she adopts the name of Ines), nor the eventual resolution of her missing child.

Interestingly, Ines is not shown to be an innocent victim – she acts as a prostitute when necessary, steals and lies. But the writing makes clear that we are meant to believe that she has been wronged and our sympathies should lie with her.

The writing is superb. The different voices are well defined – not an easy task with so many characters. There are also some lovely “set pieces” – such as the scene in the mountains when the American food writer resists giving money to Ines but is “persuaded” (i.e. blackmailed) into it by his Italian hunter companions.

The blurb on the cover said “This is a novel you cannot stop thinking about”. True.