With excerpts from the Chronicling Childhood Cancer book, this blog post was included in the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital Hail to the Little Victors blog. I’m honored to be a part of such an important initiative; I truly believe that “everyone has a role to play to block out cancer.”
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I realized what it was about Cutting for Stone that resonated with me so much. In many ways, it is like two of my favorite books: East of Eden by John Steinbeck and The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. This novel follows an Ethiopian family through the generations, and it also looks closely at the relationship between two brothers, Shiva and Marion. I am fascinated by these family dynamics and this sibling relationship, and part of why I enjoyed this novel was because it grounded these relationships in a rich culture within the world of medicine. Whenever I finish a novel, I always feel suspended- unable to move on to anything else, the story still sinking in. That was characteristic of the aftermath of this novel.
It’s hard to summarize this novel. So much happens, but there’s also so much more to the novel than what happens. Shiva and Marion grow up, still retreating to their united identity when necessary but developing their own sense of self. Marion is more outgoing, and in many ways he starts out as the voice of the twins. Shiva displays characteristics of a high-functioning autistic individual, one who is more reserved but highly intellectual.
They are close friends with Genet, the maid Rosina’s daughter. When military riots break out, Genet’s father Zemui is killed, shattering the lives of Genet and Rosina. Hema takes Genet in like a daughter, but when Genet and Rosina travel to their homeland, Genet returns as a rebellious adolescent woman. Marion insists that he is in love with Genet, eager to marry her and saving his sexual initiation for their wedding. He resists the temptation of the Staff Probationer, and he is shocked to learn that Shiva has already lost his virginity. When Genet learns this, she convinces Shiva to sleep with her. In exchange for Rosina’s promise not to tell Hema, Genet agrees to be circumcised but ends up in the hospital due to infection. This series of events strains Marion’s relationship with both Genet and Shiva, and he buries himself in his medical studies.
Genet’s rebellious activities continue in medical school and eventually force Marion to leave Ethiopia for America. He establishes himself in a marginal hospital in New York, coincidentally coming across his own father, Thomas Stone. They slowly build a relationship with one another, and Marion is able to fulfill Ghosh’s wish and convey his profession of friendship. Marion encounters Tsige in Boston, and Genet approaches him for help. As promised, Marion loses his virginity to Genet, who stays for a few days fresh out of prison. She leaves as suddenly as she had appeared, and Marion later finds out that she has infected him with Hepatitis B. Marion’s health unravels, and he is in desperate need for a new liver.
Shiva, who has now established a name for himself as an ob/gyn, and Hema arrive in response to Stone’s telegram. Upon realizing the seriousness of Marion’s health, Shiva does some research and insists on donating part of his own liver in order to save Marion. He makes the decision upon realizing that Marion would have done the same for him. Although the operation is risky as the first of its kind, Hema implores Stone to complete the surgery for the boys have never been his sons. While at first the surgery appears to have been a success, complications ultimately result in Shiva’s death. Marion lives on, and he finally finds the lost letter written to Thomas Stone from his mother.
I was incredibly interested in the transplant and its effects on the brothers. Living with his brother’s liver, Marion acknowledges the simultaneous presence of Shiva’s soul in his body. As a result, Shiva lives on through Marion, and ShivaMarion defies death for the time being. This allows the book to conclude on a more optimistic note, one that has high hopes for what the future has in store for Marion.