I was half way through this book in its digital e-version before I realised that it was 540 pages… and I felt every single one of those 540 odd pages. This book was magnificent. From its opening – “After eight months spent in the obscurity of our mother’s womb, my brother, Shiva, and I came into the world” – right through to the end I was gripped in the author’s passionate narrative, the complex relationship between identical twin brothers, their adoptive parents, and their connection to the place to which they belonged and didn’t belong. Although the book is fiction, it read like non-fiction and I desperately wanted it to be true. These characters were all so alive, so legitimate, so honest that it was at times difficult to tear oneself away from their crises. There were simply so many poignant moments in this novel and even when I thought that the story was winding down I was again thrown into turmoil by tragedy.
This book bought so many revelations: “the tragedy of death had to do entirely with what was left unfulfilled,” “Children were the foot wedged in the closing door, the glimmer of hope that in reincarnation there would be some house to go to, even if one came back as a dog, or a mouse, or a flea that lived on the bodies of men”, “her skills were so rare, so needed for the poorest of the poor, and even at time in the royal palace, that she felt valued. Wasn’t that the definition of home? Not where you are from, but were you are wanted?”
The book rotates on these themes, the fleeting nature of life, the bonds that bind people together and the meaning of home and belonging. The book talks about the value of creating one’s own mythology and the impact of that mythology on others. “The key to your happiness is to own your slippers, own who you are, own how you look, own your family, own the talents you have, and the ones you don’t. If you keep saying your slippers aren’t yours, then you’ll die searching, you’ll die bitter, always feeling you were promised more. Not only our actions, but also our omissions, become our destiny.”
Although this author has been criticised for over doing the medical descriptions in his narrative, I found his language magnificent:
“I came down my steps. I reached my hand out and tilted her face up. Her eyeballs and lids rolled down just like the dolls she used to play with. Her skin was cold to my touch. The vertical scars at the outer edges of her eyes were now seasoned lines, though I recalled the day Rosina’s blade gave birth to them, and how they had been raw and choked with dark blood. I jerked her chin farther up. Still she wouldn’t meet my gaze. I wanted her to see the scars on my body, one from her betrayal of me with Shiva and another from her becoming more Eritrean than any Eritrean, resulting in the hijacking that drove me out of my country. I wanted her to see my rage through my outer calm. I wanted her to feel the blood surge in my muscles, to see the way my fingers curled and coiled and itched for her windpipe. It was good she didn’t look because if she so much as blinked, I would have bit into her jugular, I would have consumed her, bones, teeth and hair, leaving nothing of her on the street.”
There are vivid descriptions of the places that the characters inhabit and visit, of the political backdrop to the action in Ethiopia and of the intense love which the characters feel for one another. The text is filled with wonderful moments of awe, from the descriptions of the poverty and struggle in Ethiopia, through to the protagonist’s awe at arriving in America:
“What human language captures the dislocation, the acute insufficiency of being in the presence of the superorganism, the sinking, shrinking feeling at this display of industrial steel and light and might? It was as if nothing I’d ever done in my life prior to this counted. As if my past life was revealed to be a waste, a gesture in slow motion, because what I considered scarce and precious was in fact plentiful and cheap, and what I counted as rapid progress turned out to be glacially slow.”
I have since discovered that this book has been made into a movie and I can see how this would work. I don’t think I’d bother watching the film though, I have such solid visions in my imagination of each of the characters and of the action that dominates the text that I would hate for that to be destroyed or compromised by someone else’s imagined interpretation!
In case you haven’t gathered, I loved this book. I loved every aspect of it. It reminded me so of Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children that I am now moved to reread that monumental tome!
Buy the digital version: Cutting for Stone