Thursday, October 21, 2010

Cutting For Stone, Abraham Verghese

Well, what a beautiful and satisfying book.  The author weaves a tale of twin brothers who are raised in a hospital in Ethiopia during an era of revolution.  They are aware of the unconventional family in which they find themselves in and excel in their own ways.

They are at the core of a tragedy, a mystery, lost and missing family.  They are well cared for and loved.  Their story unfolds mostly through the narration of one of the twins.  Marion, like all the characters in this book, is well rounded, complicated and human.  His maturity expands as the story unfolds and his transformation from child to man is stunning.

Our book discussion jumped from topic to topic mostly on the bent of "I LOVED THIS PART" and "I loved how this was written."   We found that in spite of the books 650 pages that it was a quick read.  To say we devoured it would be an understatement.

Dr. Verghese, if you ever Google your own name and find our silly little blog we want to invite you to come to dinner.  WE LOVED YOUR BOOK!

We were infinitely impressed with the amount of medical information in the story, especially around surgeries and illnesses and how it was extremely accessible to us non-doctor type people.  The journey of our characters to become a doctor and the involvement of the multiple doctors and medical personnel could have been tedious, but it wasn't, it was lovely.

The only loud and remotely negative comment related to this story is the general outrage that smart men have trouble walking away from women who are 'trouble'.  This isn't a complaint about the book as much as a commentary on humans (women do it too.)  What is it about us that we see others for who we want them to be, rather than who they may have become?    Is it so hard to accept that if someone hits you, lies to you, manipulates you, sleeps with your best friend, kills your cat, sets your house on fire, takes your savings or other general malfeasance that maybe, just maybe they aren't worthy of your love???  Sorry for the side track - I'm not suggesting that forgiveness isn't an option, but snap out of it, some people are douche bags.  Learn to recognize them and get them out of your life!

Back to the point.  Cutting for Stone, confusing title and all, was well received by our humble group, come dine and discuss with us Dr. Verghese.  We want to shower you with our appreciation.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Zelda, A biography

an attempt at ballet

at age 19

with her husband
We read Nancy Milford's Zelda, a biography this month.  Ms. Milford brought us Savage Beauty that was well appreciated by our book group and we had high hopes for this, her first novel.

Zelda is the biography of the charmed but troubled life for Zelda Fitzgerald, the wife of the author F. Scott Fitzgerald.  She was in essence the first flapper and symbolized the roaring 20's for many.  The reality of it is that she was mentally ill, married to an alcoholic and was starving for a creative outlet of her own.  Writing was essentially denied because her husband claimed their (her) life story and experiences as his own creative domain.  Attempts on her part to fictionalize anything based upon her own thoughts and experiences were squelched or shunned.

Examining the life events of people who are iconic can be exhausting.  It is difficult to learn that they were not the happy, go lucky people that society wants them to be. It is (to me) frustrating to immerse into a world where unhappiness and abuse reins.   Zelda was a strong woman prone to whimsy and her life might have been different had she selected a life partner who was just that, a partner.  It was clear that Scott was the star and all things must support that.  When she did have minor successes Scott managed and facilitated it so he a) was seen as responsible for it and b) could control the impact on their world.  He negotiated her contracts, "co-authored" articles and because of his own debt basically eliminated any profit she may have seen.  She netted about $150 from her one mildly successful book because the remainder of the compensation was held to cover Scotts debt with the publisher. 

We were mixed on how many finished the book, but were unified in our opinion that while it was a noteworthy effort that Ms. Milford could have benefited from an editor.  She spent pages on examples of how Scott used letters and passages from Zelda's diaries in his books.  A couple of examples would have sufficed for the novel.  For her thesis, I understand why Milford would want to show that she found many many glaring examples of plagiarism, but when this part of the book came up I personally found myself skimming.

We were also of differencing opinions as to how sympathetic the author was to Scott.  Some of us felt that in spite of the detail of the alcoholism and his marked cruelty that she was portraying him as a reasonably loving husband.   Others felt that she showed him to be the insecure cad that he was.

Of the two Milford biographies Savage Beauty comes out on top, but this one was certainly worthy of the time.