And here is the beginning of my difficulty with this book. At thirteen, the boys become fixated with sex but act upon their desires in different ways. What I had a problem with was the way in which women were throwing themselves at these young boys, who, although they were tall and lean, were, after all, just boys. Why would women in their thirties do this? It seems hardly believable. I think it was because the author needed to have Marion's life messed-up good and early, so that he could find redemption later on and still be young enough to enjoy it.
One thing I did like was the 'missing' motif that ran through the book. Indeed 'Missing' could have been the book's title: each character is missing something, a part of themselves, a parent, a loved one... but mostly a parent. Verghese describes a fragmented society with broken people desperately trying to make themselves and others whole. As a result, the adults spend all their time trying to find what is lost. The narrator tells us, at the start of the book, his theory about doctors: they are all trying to heal their own sickness, to make themselves whole again. This is a very interesting idea, and so every character has some 'lack' that they are struggling with. Hema, the twins foster mother, is career-driven, until, after a near death experience, she discovers a powerful maternal instinct. Thomas stone, the twin's father, lost a beloved mother when he was a child and is an emotional recluse as a result. It is not lost on the reader that the hospital in Ethiopia, where all of the main characters work and live, is called 'Missing', a mispronunciation of 'Mission' which is a very fitting moniker for this motley crew of lost and broken.
“I will not cut for stone,” the Hippocratic oath states, “even for patients in whom the disease is manifest; I will leave this operation to be performed by practitioners, specialists in this art.” It seems that the cryptic title of the book, although poetic in its own sense, refers to the act of surgery, in terms of 'cutting' out a kidney or gallbladder 'stone'. Also, the writer is punning on the name of the main character's family name: Stone. This is fitting because, ultimately, this is a book about medicine and the life of a surgeon. I felt like I had gone through a medical degree by the end of this novel. Every page is full of medical Latinate terminology and consulted the dictionary regularly. Still, I do not think that this diminished the book's appeal in any way, but added to it. It is obvious that the author is himself a surgeon and his passion for his work is undeniable.
I also enjoyed the way the world of Ethiopia was described, through the senses. It reminded me of 'Purple Hibiscus' by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, with it sights, tastes and smells of exotic Africa. I felt as if I was breathing the high-altitude air of the mountain city of Addis Abeba, and really felt close to its clever and beautiful people. Surely that is the true measure of a good book, whether or not it takes you on a journey, and that is something that Verghese easily has accomplished. As an Ethiopian, living in America, we can sense the love of his native country, despite the poverty and violence there. We follow the narrator as he travels to New York, straight from a war zone, and it is shocking to see the difference between the developed and developing worlds, and very disturbing too.