Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese
Location: 100 Wing Conference Room, Behind the Copier Room


Annie O'Neill
Julie Kameisha
Megan Decker
Sarah Becker
David Pearl


Pre-meeting: Have everyone read the NYT book review for some background context to bolster the discussion and get another perspective.

Introductions: name/grade, thumbs up or down based on opinion of book

-Discuss these characters.
-Why are they important and what are they like as people.
-Do a whip for each character, saying one adjective that describes them.
-Choose two characters to compare and contrast. (no more than 5 min.)
Character List:
Thomas Stone
Sister Mary Joseph Praise

Summarize in Ten Words of Less:
Give everyone 5 min. to summarize book in ten words or less. Go around the circle and have everyone read their own. Have others offer questions or comments before moving on to the next person. Each summary gets at least one comment or question from another participant.

Passage Path: Have one person in the group choose a meaningful passage. Discuss the passage: Why is it important? What issues does it bring to you attention? The other group members should be thinking of another passage that relates to the first. Continue the discussion until everyone has had their thoughts shared. If the topic becomes tiresome feel free to choose a new passage with new things to discuss.

* After 45 minutes, have an intermission and let people get water and stretch.

Open Discussion Starters: (discuss each for about 5-10 min)
  • What do you think was the turning point in the novel?
  • Were there any moments in the novel when you lost interest or the writing got very slow?
  • Of the two twins, who did you find more interesting? Who did you relate to more?
  • What are your thoughts on Genet?
  • Did you like the style of the writing? Was it too complex?
  • What is your opinion on the cliffhanger ending?
  • What is your opinion of Shiva giving Marion part of his liver? Why do you think he did this?
  • What was the saddest loss in this novel?
  • What things about Ethiopia did you learn about in this novel? Did your opinion change about that country?
  • How did the intense medical scenes affect you emotionally? How did it affect your views of medicine?
  • Why do you think Dr. Stone left? Do you think he was in fact the father? Why, or why not?
  • How did being born as twins shape the boys as characters?
  • What do you think is the significance of the title?
  • Did you appreciate the way that Verghese used such graphic language to describe the medical side of the book? Did you think that it was too much at some points?
  • What was the lasting impression did this story leave you with?
  • Which character did you find to be the most interesting? Which character did you find to be the most relatable?
  • What are your thoughts about Rosina? How do you feel about her suicide?

Academic Links:

Creative Writing by Julie Kameisha

I awoke that morning planning for another typical day. Nothing was unusual - procedures, meetings, and a presentation for a group of young physicians yearning to listen to some words of wisdom. As I finished off my cup of instant coffee, I took a deep breath and made my way to the hospital auditorium. I fingered my cheat sheet of notes with my withered nine fingers before I made my entrance to the stage, and I made a point to glance out briefly into the seating area. All that was visible were rows upon rows of white lab coats and the occasional pair of salmon colored scrubs. They were the future surgeons, nurses, and physicians of our modern world. They sat in silence with an eerie focus, an impressive scene. I walked out to the podium.
Besides being the leading surgeon at M&M Hospital, my job was to teach these students to become the best that they can be in whatever field they are about to enter. I rambled on and on, rarely using my notes for assistance because this subject was my area of expertise. I knew the ways of the human body like a bird knows how and when to migrate south. It is second nature to me. Medicine is my sixth sense.
Our practice at M&M had faults that I needed to address. Our staff was fully functional in knowing how to save a patient from heavy internal bleeding or mending broken bones, but we were lacking in the most important area - bedside manner. Only my most devout fans, those who had read my novel, The Expedient Operator: A Short Practice of Tropical Surgery, would know the answer to the question I was about to throw out.
“What treatment in an emergency is administered by ear?”
Silence followed. I stepped back, waiting patiently for an answer. Nervous medical school students slunk down into their chairs and still nobody said a word.
Then I saw a hand raise confidently in the very back of the room. The owner of the hand was obviously male, foreign-looking, and was dressed in a nice shirt and slacks. He paused, and then looked me in the eyes. He held my gaze firmly, and then spoke the words I was waiting to hear.
“Words of comfort.”
My past had made it into the present. Something about the man in the back of the room was not ordinary. I could hear it in his voice and could see it in his eyes. My life in Ethiopia was a world I never wanted to confront again, but there it was, having a conversation with me.
“Thank you,” I said, “Words of comfort.” I turned right to exit the stage, grasping my notes firmly in my hand, and looked back quickly to catch another glimpse of him. He was studying me as well.
My heart was pounding and my hands felt clammy. I swore if I looked deep enough into his eyes I could see something resembling myself. It couldn’t be. I promised myself I would never go back to the life I once lived. The life I once loved. The lives I abandoned. This was my bad karma coming to haunt me and punish me for all that I did wrong all those years ago.
This time, I could not run.
This time, I had to face my mistakes and own up to my betrayal.
I took the rest of the day off and bolted for my apartment complex. The door to my room was propped open, and when I entered my room, I found all of my belongings moved around. Every single thing I owned that could possibly be opened up was opened up. My oven door hung down, my toothpaste cap was off, my windows were wide open. Even the lids of the jars in my refrigerator were uncapped and left to the side. My drawers from my dresser were laid out neatly on my floor. I didn’t even have to guess who did it.
After the initial surveillance of my apartment, my eyes feasted on the small slip of paper with that oh-so-familiar script sitting atop my desk. It was a note notifying me about a letter I had never heard of. Where did my visitor find this? What did this mean?
He obviously knew what he was doing. He had planned for his entrance into my life to be dramatic, right down to his decision to snatch the jar that contained my severed finger. Only the mind of a surgeon would choose to enter someone’s life in such an ironic fashion. It was then that I realized it was my estranged son, taking something of mine because of the losses he endured early in his childhood. The letter must have been from his mother.
As my visitor obviously intended for me to realize, I was now exposed. I had been found out. Thomas Stone had his faults. Now he would have to face the consequences.
I must find my son to sort out this mess I have created. I also want my finger back.

Creative Writing by Annie O'Neill

A New Beginning
Uncomfortable silence,
forks clang on plates,
the man before me says nothing.

After years of no shows,
after a lifetime of hopes crushed,
Thomas Stone says nothing.

I am screaming,
he doesn’t hear.
I yearn for the man who abandoned me,
he eats and he drinks,
but my father says nothing.

Dance of Shiva
Siamese twins bound at the head,
Alive and well, while their mother is dead.

Brothers for life, the two make one,
Marionshiva’s life has begun.

One with brains, one with heart,
these boys are never apart.

In time they are grown, independent, and changed,
at Missing they watch, learn, and arrange.

Betrayal cuts these brothers anew,
until one person then becomes two.

Work hours, eat, sleep.
Work more, then die a little,
wearing, tearing until I have nothing left.

Surgery is my intent, my dream, my interest.
There is nothing else I could ever do,
but help the troubled, the sick, the ill.

Medicine is what I’m meant to practice.
It is all my family has ever known and done,
I carry on the tradition like a good son.

Operating Theater Three
Hands under scalding water and soap, scrubbing,
a nun purges her sins and makes her way to Missing.

Brilliant lights glare down into the room,
brilliant twins know the answer.

With the intensity of the first incision,
a forbidden love forms within the walls of Missing.

Stitches sewn with a needle and thread,
a story is formed, a woman is dead.

Sarah Becker:
Summer Reading Creative Assignment
Cutting For Stone: Choice B

Had the delivery gone smoothly, I would have been the first born and the bracelet marking me as the younger, weaker, inferior twin might instead have marked Marion. This was not to be, and it was by the grace of the gods that I even survived at all, despite being second. Thus, Marion claimed the role of spokesperson for ShivaMarion.

Growing up, Hema never spoke in single terms. We were one. “Oh this shirt will look good on the boys,” she would say, purchasing always two cricket bats, books, or the prized chocolates from General Mebratu on his rare visits. As the first born, I think Marion thought it was his duty to be the spokesperson for ShivaMarion as he coined us, but even this nickname grew irksome. I was Shiva and he was Marion. At first I resented that he always jumped to answer questions or give our collective opinion, but I grew to appreciate his ways, as it allowed me the luxury of silence. I found I didn’t want to talk. Words were silly, petty things. And so I turned to my art as my solace and means of communicating with the world. I drew on anything and everything I could get my hands on--paper bags, cardboard cartons, scraps of paper torn from my composition book. I grew to appreciate the couple blank pages left at the end of a book as the perfect canvas, and soon the books in our home grew to be filled with my drawings, often with an Archie influence. Veronica was my favorite, I think because she reminded me of how I imagined my mother to be: beautiful, mysterious, and sought after.

You could say then, that women have always played a big role in my life. From a young age, my fascination was clear in the detailed drawings I sketched, heavy pencil lines emphasizing Veronica’s full breasts. But they have also been my salvation. They represented the one thing I had over Marion--charm. For all of ShivaMarion’s ranting, women were the one subject he tactfully avoided, knowing what would likely result would serve only to embarrass him and at a certain level, us.

It took me a little longer to realize my calling, but again, women saved me from a mutual existence with Marion. I remember that day like any other, Marion and I passing time at the culvert by the side of Missing’s hill, when a girl of perhaps twelve staggered into view, supported by her exasperated father. A terrible odor preceded her, and those she passed shunned her, as though her predicament were somehow her fault. But all I felt was pity, for I knew, the way children understand their own, that she was innocent of this evil odor. Instead of averting my eyes like all she had passed, I met hers, and sent her waves of comfort. Her suffering was unjust, and it moved something deep in me to see such potential tumble, like the rest of her life would have had she not made the trek to Missing. I remembered my own mother, dead from the sacrifice of childbirth, and wished intensely that I could somehow protect this young girl from the same. I jumped up, and ran to help her, leading her and her father straight to Hema. I couldn’t do anything to help my mother, but I could protect the other suffering women of the world. I didn’t realize it then, but this was the moment that Marion and I stopped being ShivaMarion, and I started being Shiva. Women were my passion, my life’s work, my dedication. But they were also my salvation. They were our dividing line.

Creative Writing: Megan Decker

E. Write and additional chapter or scene that takes place anytime before, during, or after the events in the book- Cutting For Stone

Marion picks up the telephone with a heavy heart. He quickly dials Dr. Stone. His father answers the call by the second ring, “Dr. Stone.” Marion mentally debates whether or not to share the information that he has just uncovered with his father. On one hand, it would surely break his heart to know that the woman whom he loved was dishonest. Dr. Stone would be forced to come to terms with the fact that Sister Mary Joseph Praise was going to leave him. Had she not died in labor while giving birth to Marion and Shiva, Sister Mary Joseph would still be gone. Dr. Stone never fully healed from her death because of its shocking, unexpected occurrence during the birth of his children. It was hard enough for Dr. Stone to get a grip on the situation with his lover unknowingly becoming pregnant, then passing away from loss of blood. That shock threw him off enough that he was forced to flee the country. How would he handle this abundance of new information surrounding his past nightmare? Is it fair to bring up all of this troublesome news which would undoubtedly cause his father pain? On the other hand, is it not his right to know?

Marion inhales deeply, then slowly and rationally explains the letter that he has found from his mother. “Dr. Stone, Shiva left me something when he died that I think may interest you.” The silence from the other line is deafening. “I have a letter that was written by my mother before she went into labor, and this letter was written to you.” Marion quickly continues to expedite the awkward explanation. “The letter contains information from my mother explaining her need to leave Missing with me and Shiva.” Marion exhales. “She wanted you to know that she loved you, and that is why she needed to leave.” Marion pauses, waiting for some kind of response from his father. After a few moments there is a sharp beep, then the line goes dead.

Only a few days after the phone call, Marion receives news from Matron. “Dr. Stone is dead.” Matron explains. “He was found in his apartment yesterday after taking a bullet to the head.” Matron sighed. “It was a suicide Marion.”