Best Movie for 2011: Cutting for Stone
I had low expectations for Cutting for Stone. When the pull quote on the cover is from USA Today, well, it’s not a big selling point. Oh, and Entertainment Weekly gave it an “A”. Now there’s a clincher.
But it has lingered on the bestseller list for weeks. 44 weeks, in fact, according to today’s New York Times. So, for nearly a year, it’s been taunting me. I felt a type of obligation, like, what is this all about?
And, I expected to pan it. It would be the snobbish thing to do.
But I actually liked it.
It’s a story of two brothers born as conjoined twins in Addis Ababa in 1954. A shocking birth, unexpected, to a mother named Sister Mary Joseph Praise. (The Sister part hopefully clues you in on the surprise of this all). Sister Mary doesn’t make it through the birth and their father, the very surgeon who Sister Mary stood by the side of for years as his assistant, is angered, incensed and heart-broken. He leaves Ethiopia and disappears from the young boys’ life.
What transpires is a sweeping novel of their life–growing up in the context of Ethiopia’s revolution. It is told through the eyes of Marion, who reports how he and Shiva boys struggle through issues of independence, sexuality, career aspirations and their reliance on each other. Though separated physically at birth, they are metaphysically inseparable through their life experiences.
The book leads up to a dramatic ending (which I can’t give up here) which challenges their need to be physically united again.
What was easy to like was the easy, accessibility of the medical jargon and hospital life that Abraham Verghese depicts-the boys live on a hospital campus in Addis and are raised by two doctors. Verghese is a professor at the Med School at Stanford (underachiever!), so there must be some autobiographical nature to it. Second, his storytelling about a cosmopolitan city that undergoes upheaval in the context of its revolution was instructive about part of the world that I have had very little exposure to. I loved learning more and found myself looking on Wikipedia and other (albeit lightweight) resources to understand the historical narrative. This was fascinating.
But if I enjoyed Cutting for Stone, I am also obliged to put a ringed-fence around my appreciation for it.
It is an epic story. If no one in Hollywood has bought the rights to this–believe me, it is coming. It could be a drama of the highest order on the big screen–there is death and love and betrayal and loyalty and reunion and forgiveness and redemption and peace. Simply put, this is a written movie. So often in life we are used to saying, oh they made this movie out of blah blah blah book. This is the opposite: “Yeah, they turned it into a book.”
It’s a 600+ page BookSnob type of beach read. It went very well with my ice-cold Corona and the casita in Mexico.Ultimately enjoyable without being lowbrow, not stretching the mind too much. Fabulous plot, reasonable writing. Tough to put down. Simple, pure entertainment.
But as the ‘Best of” lists come out for 2010, it’s not on it.
If you haven’t gotten to it yet, fear not. You can skip it.
It will be coming to a theater near you soon enough.
I was delighted to see that Jennifer Egan’s “A Visit From the Goon Squad” was named one of the best books of 2010. If you read my review last week but thought, huh, not sure if it’s my thing…. I urge you to look again. I feel emboldened by a list that put her right up there with Jonathan Franzen. Get this book!