Study Guide

Cutting for Stone

By Abraham Verghese

Cutting for Stone Introduction

Bet you never thought descriptions of surgery could be romantic, did you?

Well, Abraham Verghese proves you wrong. His novel Cutting for Stone is a love letter to Ethiopia, to the medical profession, and to brotherly love itself. Surgery ain't just surgery in this baby.

Published in 2009, this novel follows a surgeon named Marion from before his birth all the way to his fiftieth year, telling how he and his twin were separated, how they grew up and betrayed each other, and finally how they came back together. It deals with issues of race and immigration, tells the modern history of Ethiopia, and also sheds light on medical problems that affect African women in particular, besides being a really good story.

This is Verghese's first novel, but that didn't stop it from becoming a huge bestseller. And we're not surprised: with its epic scope, its romantic punch, and it's close attention to detail—especially nitty-gritty medical details—this one is hard to put down. Verghese knows what he's talking about, too—the guy is a professor at Stanford's med school, and he's written lots of essays, short stories, and a couple of other novels since this one.

Cutting for Stone was one of Amazon's and Publishers Weekly's Best Books of the Year in 2009, and it also won the Indies Choice Book Award in 2010. On top of that, it spent more than two years on the New York Times bestseller list. Want to see what all the fuss is about? Read on, Shmoopers.

What is Cutting for Stone About and Why Should I Care?

Why should you read Cutting for Stone? We'll give you the top seven reasons.

7. It turns out that Ethiopian history is lots more exciting than you might have imagined. Think Italian invasions, World War II, a benevolent(-ish) emperor, coups, guerrilla skyjackings… you're going to like it.
6. The descriptions of surgery and medical procedures are so vivid, you'll be able to perform some of them after reading the book. (That's a joke, Shmoopers.)
5. The novel shows how things like immigration law, war, and exile contribute to the makeup of the medical profession. International doctors keep U.S. citizens alive because they get offers they just can't refuse, keeping them away from their own countries.
4. It'll get you all riled up about injustice and the effects of poverty on health. The hospitals in the novel care for the poorest patients, and their diseases and injuries are mostly the result of their poor living conditions.
3. You'll learn about awful health situations you'd never even imagined. Yeah, that's pretty nasty, but it's also super interesting.
2. There's a clever plotline about conjoined twins who are separated at birth but then reunited in death. To say more would be a spoiler, so just read it.
1. Ethiopian food, folks. You'll be licking your lips over descriptions of dishes whose names you can't even pronounce.

Cutting for Stone Resources


Here's the author's official website.

His Other Life
Dr. Verghese's professional site. He's totally a legit doctor.


Ask Anything
Verghese explains how he came up with the storyline and characters of Cutting for Stone.

The Gory Details
Verghese explains how his medical background influenced the novel.


Physician, Writer, Video Star
Verghese talks about doctoring and writing on Minnesota Public Radio.

Talking It Up
The doctor appears on the TED stage.


Talking Volumes
Verghese gives you an earful in this interview.

Listeners Ask
Verghese answers NPR listeners' questions here.


Three-Legged Race
The twins totally run across the cover of the novel.

Not Just a Pretty Face
Verghese's headshot.