I just finished a wonderful, sprawling novel, Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese. The surgeon-author has crafted a work that spans decades across multiple continents. It is the story of twins, Marion and Shiva Stone, whose Indian nun mother dies at their birth and physician father abandons them. Verghese, who admits he is a fan of another physician-novelist, W. Somerset Maugham, has created his own Of Human Bondage.
The author’s ability to evoke exotic settings in India and Ethiopia and create characters that resonate with readers made me wonder if there is something about the medical profession that produces great literature.
In addition to Maugham, a number of classic writers also studied medicine, including, Anton Chekhov, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, William Carlos Williams and John Keats.
According to Ethan Canin, a physician turned contemporary novelist, it is not just coincidence that doctors write good literature, "It's like being a soldier. You've seen great and terrible things."
Anyway, be sure to try Cutting for Stone. If you enjoy epic drama set in the far corners of the world, it’s a book for you.
Pat, Fairfax County Public Library