Updated: Feb 19, 2021
When I read the bio of Abraham Verghese at the beginning of his fine novel, Cutting for Stone, I will admit had a moment of self-comparison. Here was Verghese, a surgeon, a professor at Stanford, Iowa Writer's Workshop graduate (to name just a few of his accomplishments), yet still humble enough to not use his title on the book cover. A writer and a surgeon? Who has the kind of time to develop two such different and difficult-to-acquire skill sets?
If there's anything I have learned on this journey towards publication, it is that you absolutely cannot dwell on those kinds of comparisons. We all write what we know. Just as I had to cut out many of the technical descriptions of lighting and running a stage crew from Where Are We Tomorrow?, so, I'm sure, did Verghese have to scale back and make his prose comprehensible to the layman. Even though he does this brilliantly with crisp, clear language, some of his descriptions of surgery may make some a bit queasy. Just skip those sections and the story will be equally as strong.
Cutting for Stone is one of my favorite books partially because we get a fascinating glimpse of Ethiopia, a country I knew very little about. His descriptions of Addis Ababa are akin to how Naguib Mafouz grabs the reader and drags them around the unnamed Egyptian city in The Harafish (another book I would highly recommend). This feeling of immersion is the beauty of the novel. How a reader can travel (especially now) without leaving home. How we feel we know a place without ever physically going there. In the past, books have inspired me to travel. For now, they may have to suffice on their own.