Sunday, December 12, 2010

Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese

Reading this book, I smelled spices and heat rising from dust and deep, broad leaves. I heard the laughter - light and bantering, and tears torn from deep inside - plaintive and helpless. There were medicinal odors brushing against powerful, pervasive floral tones and the sound of deafening African rains beating down onto Ethiopian rooftops, driving man & beast to despair.

I was drawn in slowly. Carefully. Meticulously. Surely.

Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese was a book that kept me on a short leash. I wasn’t the best company during this read, but found I preferred to curl up with book in hand and lose myself. Battling a sinus infection, I wrapped myself in a blanket and, sipping tea and popping cough drops one after another, found I could forget my discomfort in the hairpin turns of plot and the deciphering of life through the eyes of young Marion Stone.

“Because, Marion, you are an instrument of God. Don’t leave the instrument sitting in its case, my son. Play! Leave no part of your instrument unexplored. Why settle for ‘Three Blind Mice’ when you can play the ‘Gloria’?”

How unfair of Matron to evoke that soaring chorale which always made me feel that I stood with every mortal creature looking up to the heavens in dumb wonder. She understood my unformed character.

“But, Matron, I can’t dream of playing Bach, the ‘Gloria’…,” I said under my breath. I’d never played a string or wind instrument. I couldn’t read music.

“No, Marion,” she said, her gaze soft, reaching for me, her gnarled hands rough on my cheeks. “No, not Bach’s ‘Gloria.’ Yours! Your ‘Gloria’ lives within you. The greatest sin is not finding it, ignoring what God made possible in you.”

And as I read through this book, I realized as I have at other times, that my American mind cannot thoroughly understand the hunger, the instability of peace and the sickness that lace the storyline of this book. We are not able to completely digest the violence that many African countries have weathered as their homelands pass from one capricious set of hands to another, the seeming unimportance of a human life or children taken from their families and married to older men before their time and against their will, ruining their health and future.

But when we read a deeply sensitive work such as Cutting For Stone, we stare through an open window and catch a glimpse into someone else’s world. And hopefully, we don’t easily forget.