I am trying to keep some fiction in my life post-holidays. Abraham Verghese's novel, Cutting for Stone, has been an excellent escape so far. The setting is exotic, the characters rich, and the narrative engrossing.
Settle in to this.
Yes, it might be the era of the kidney transplant in America and a vaccine for polio due to arrive even in India, but here Hema felt she;s tricked time; with her twentieth century knowledge she had traveled back to an earlier epoch. The power filtered down from His Majesty to the Rases, the Dejazmaches, and the lesser nobility, and then to the vassals and peons. Her skills were so rare, so needed for the poorest of the poor, and even at times in the royal palace, that she felt valued. Wasn't that the definition of home? Not where you are from, but where you are wanted?
I loved those Latin words for their dignity, their foreignness, and the way my tongue had to wrap around them. I felt that in learning the special language of a scholarly order, I was amassing a kind of force. This was the pure and noble side of the world, uncorrupted by secrets and trickery. How extraordinary that a word could serve as shorthand for an elaborate tale of disease.
He invited me into a world that wasn't secret, but it was well hidden. You needed a guide. You had to know what to look for, but also how to look. You had to exert yourself to see this world. But if you did, if you had that kind of curiosity, if you had an innate interest in the welfare of your fellow human beings, and if you went through that door, a strange thing happened: you left your petty troubles at the threshold. It could be addictive.
If this was what brave felt like - numb, dumb, with eyes that could see no farther than my bloody fingers, and a heart that raced and pined for the girl who hugged me - then I suppose I was brave.
The bow tie was his idea. In all things, especially when it cost little and did no harm to others, Ghosh was his own man. The bow tie told the world how pleased he was to be alive.
All quotations from Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (Toronto: Vintage Canada, 2010).