In a week of unexpected difficulties – an elderly family member hospitalized after a fall, then word of another dear friend in critical care last night – my books have been a solace once again, helping to pass the long, anxious hours while waiting for news, redirecting my thoughts from fears and worries, removing me from the scenes of suffering and sadness.
Luckily I was in the midst of a wonderful saga, one of those big books that carries you through the length and breadth of a character’s life. Cutting for Stone is an expansive tale of family love and betrayal, of politics and intrigue, of medicine and superstition, of love and heartbreak. It tells the story of Marion and Shiva Stone, identical twins born of the union between a famous surgeon and a quiet nun. Left orphans by their mother’s death in childbirth and their father’s disappearance, the boys grow up in a makeshift but loving family. The boys come of age as their country (Ethiopia) endures political revolution, while their love for the same woman brings a similar upheaval to their own preternaturally close relationship.
It’s not difficult to lose oneself in this sort of book, for Abraham Verghese’s writing draws you into the story wherever the page falls open. Which is important in times of crisis, when one is liable to drop the book at a moment’s notice as a doctor walks into the room or a telephone rings. Even though it’s large and heavy to tote around hospital corridors and waiting rooms, it’s heft is something of a solace, knowing there is plenty of story there to keep me company.
It has happened before that books have kept me company during times of illness and strife. I recall reading Gone With the Windduring the time my grandfather was hospitalized with lung cancer, and Scarlett’s troubles were the perfect antidote for a scared, worried 15 year year old. When I went into labor with my son, I happened to be reading Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy (strange choice, I know), so that book stayed on my hospital night stand for five days after his birth as he was treated for jaundice. Two years ago, while my husband was having surgery, it was Piece of My Heart, the latest Peter Robinson mystery.
Any ravenous reader can attest to the fact that “there is no frigate like a book…” a ballast of safety in a world unexpectedly gone awry. So my book will go with me today, as I leave for my hospital rounds, a small comfort in a world of storm.
Now tell me, which books have sustained you during difficult times?