a disappointing book on the whole, but not bad in the medical-squee department.
the book tells the tale of twins born under inauspicious circumstances in an Ethiopian hospital to an anglo surgeon father and an Indian nun mother. born stateless! what a great setup for an exploration of the sharp edges of cultural difference.
but alas, that never gets explored, much. the viewpoint throughout is thoroughly anglo. which is the first source of my disappointment: a book set in Ethiopia that never really explores Ethiopian culture. the twins grow up almost, it seems, in an anglo bubble–the Catholic (? i’m not good on Christian sects) hospital where ma and pa worked–and never seem much affected by any non-christian, non-white way of being.
it’s no spoiler to say that pa runs off the minute the twins are born, and so a part of this book deals with the standard absent father/aggrieved son matrix. it’s a good thing real life is not always like literature, else one might begin to think that no father ever stuck around to rear a son. Verghese handles this in some ways differently than one might expect, which is nice; but to me this setup feels been-there-done-that-to-death. by the time one nears the last third of the book and the reasons for pa’s desertion begin to draw near, i found myself just fundamentally not caring very much what pa’s reasons were.
so the book trundles along, even piling on event, with i think little thematic connection between them, and no feeling of culmination at the end.
and the end! oh! they would have had to make a swiss-cheese stage to accommodate all those deus-ex-machinas. the end is one unbelievable event after another. i found myself skimming pages just to say i’d finished the book.
the medical squee, however, if you like that sort of thing (and i do), is pretty awesome. it never fails to astonish me, the number of ways the body can go wrong, and this book seems to cover quite a few of them. i am not a doctor, but this book feels genuine in its medical detail; i feel the author must have done a ton of research (or perhaps is a doctor). so if you like your guts on the table, you’ll enjoy this book.