“It took me eight years to complete the book,” laughed Verghese in a recent interview with The Press. “So I wouldn’t say it was quick work. But it has been a real honor to be so accepted.”
Verghese was the guest speaker in Brentwood last week when fans of the novel gathered for a book discussion and question-and-answer session. Held at Trilogy at The Vineyards, the standing-room-only event was the culmination of the annual CityRead program, which provides free copies of books – typically by Bay Area authors – to the public.
Prior to the Trilogy event, Verghese spoke about his motivation for the book and the juxtaposition of being both a doctor – he is a professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine – and writer.
“I don’t really see myself as wearing two hats,” said Verghese, who was born in Ethiopia. “I’ve always wanted to be a doctor, and my desire to write actually came as a result of that. It was during the AIDS epidemic and I was practicing in Boston at the time, and I remember being so struck by the coldness and lack of compassion that many of these patients received. That’s the moment when I knew I was going to write something, and I think the story came out of that. The study and practice of medicine is a great privilege and I feel much the same way about writing.”
“Cutting for Stone” is the story of twins Marion and Shiva Stone, born to an Indian nun and a British surgeon. When their mother dies in childbirth and their father abandons them, the boys are taken in by family friends. As their lives unfold, the brother’s paths are intertwined by tragedy, ambition and betrayal.
But it’s the story’s universal theme of love that Verghese believes has struck a chord with so many readers.
“This book is about many things,” said Verghese. “But I think the fundamental truth about this story is that love is what connects us all; in the end, it is all that we have.
“A novel is a collaborative relationship between the reader and the author and what really excites me are the different ways that audiences who have read the book react. They typically ask a lot of questions, and really good ones.”
Event organizer Liz Fuller, senior community library manager for the Oakley and Brentwood libraries, agreed that Verghese fielded plenty of good questions. And while the author definitely brought some star power to town, it was his unassuming, open demeanor that won the audience over.
“He is so down-to-earth and seems to have no ego whatsoever,” said Fuller. “He is funny, self-deprecating, gracious and interesting. People were really moved by his talk. It was a wonderful event.”