There are almost 900 reviews on Amazon and I have just created my analysis of Cutting for Stone for our Public Library review seminar. If you get so far as to read my review, if I place it, you will have either read 896 others or have skipped around to end up at mine the 897th review. Instead I chose to place it on my Blog.
You certainly have read enough reviews to know the story line and if you have read the review of S. McGee (New York, NY) a top 100 Vine Reviewer you know the narrative as well as it could be rendered, therefore I will venture to a new sort of review on this book one which guides one through the underlying principles of this large novel which I saw as the Gone With The Wind of Ethiopia. So, other than the conversations/discussions at the library in my town where thirty-two people, approximately six males and 26 females gathered after reading said novel this past Thursday evening, I have had little opportunity to express these ideas. None of those at the library discussion ventured into the realm which I elucidate there.
This is more of an analysis of the seeming forces, which bore down upon writer, reader, and characters, which forced the characters through their odd (to an American) rituals, and had them enduring so many things we do not much undertake here in the big cities of America, a nation still young and still disturbed.
Bear with me for this alternative ride, which looks into the artistic, spiritual/theological, and cultural and superstitious underpinnings of the ambiance and characters within the book.
In my zeal to see if anyone else supported my ideas on this novel, I did some lengthy research and the very first critique I read was in agreement with my long held view of one of the symbols of the story. Later I found many others supporting my theory. The first article focused on the Writings by Saint Theresa of Avila (in English), which I read long ago at a Catholic College Prep School.
Simon Schama wrote the treatise below, with the title "When Stone Came to Life". The "Stone" does not refer to Dr. Stone, one of the chief characters of the book, but rather to the brilliant sculpture of Bernini, “The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa". Quoting Dr. Schama, who is quoting St. Teresa, below:
“This is her description of the event that Bernini depicts:”
‘Beside me, on the left, appeared an angel in bodily form.... He was not tall but short, and very beautiful; and his face was so aflame that he appeared to be one of the highest ranks of angels, who seem to be all on fire.... In his hands I saw a great golden spear, and at the iron tip there appeared to be a point of fire. This he plunged into my heart several times so that it penetrated to my entrails. When he pulled it out I felt that he took them with it, and left me utterly consumed by the great love of God. The pain was so severe that it made me utter several moans. The sweetness caused by this intense pain is so extreme that one cannot possibly wish it to cease, nor is one's soul content with anything but God. This is not a physical but a spiritual pain, though the body has some share in it—even a considerable share. “ Saint Theresa describes her intensely spiritual experience in very physical, even sexual terms.”
A number of theologians, Psychologists, Psychiatrists, Profilers and educators (myself included) believed that Bernini’s sculpture, and St. Teresa’s dialogue pointed at her ecstasy, was a perfect description of an orgasm,
There are reams of similar discussions of St. Teresa’s visionary experience and the overwhelming majority of which are mainstream, so bear with me for a few moments.
“The Sanskrit word Shiva (Devanagari: śiva) is an adjective meaning ‘auspicious, kind, gracious’. As a proper name it means ‘The Auspicious One’, used as a name for Rudra. In simple English transliteration it is written either as Shiva or Siva. The adjective śiva, meaning ‘auspicious’, is used as an attributive epithet not particularly of Rudra, but of several other Vedic deities.
The Sanskrit word śaiva means "relating to the god Shiva", and this term is the Sanskrit name both for one of the principal sects of Hinduism and for a member of that sect. It is used as an adjective to characterize certain beliefs and practices, such as Shaivism.”
Recall please, that the main character, narrator, Merion and his brother were Siamese Twins, joined at the head and born of a Nun who died in childbirth and was the consort of Dr. Stone.
Recall also the tales of how many mothers, who were less than teen-agers, also died in Childbirth because their pelvic structures were not mature enough to allow them to pass the living fetus, so almost always both mother and child died having no access to C-section surgery.
Recall the blossoming sexuality of Genet and the fact that she, unable to fulfill her sexual desires with her love Merion, so instead, eager as she was for sexual fulfillment, she then fulfilled her desire with Shiva, Merion brother. What path might all of their lives has taken had Merion not rejected her seduction? Merion had taken the vow of chastity, which was all the rage for many eons. It is a vow I along with countless other Catholic boys who attended Catholic Prep schools also took. We even wore the heavily distributed “Chastity Belts” a string rosary which we wore about our waists, so that if we got to the point of removing our clothing with a young lady, we would, theoretically, upon seeing the string rosary Chastity belt, would remember our vow and say no. (Needless to say that in real life, these chastity belts seldom stopped the unstoppable urge.)
In their subsequent sexual encounter because Merion would not comply Genet, unhappy with his rejection, urinated on him. She insulted and shamed him for refusing her advances. Recall also that Genet’s mother was obsessed with Genet’s virginity and mutilated her Clitoris after Genet’s intercourse and pregnancy for which her mother blamed Merion while Genet appeared to demur from removing the stigma from him and failed to place the blame where it belonged upon Shiva, his Brother. Later, Genet carried a fatal illness as a result of her sexual difficulties both with and without her consent.
Remember the rape of Sister Praise as a girl of nineteen years of age?
Recall the myriad of sexual experiences throughout the book. Please also remember two other related matters. While Merion remained a virgin, Shiva had by his late teens or early 20’s bedded down some 28 females. Also bring to mind that Merion overcame several seduction attempts by women and seemed to give them little thought afterwards. Remember also, that prostitution was rampant in Ethiopia.
It is enterprising to note that further winding its way throughout the book in every quarter was a sort of medieval form of Catholicism, often conflated with cultural superstitions and magic, all of which long preceded the creation of the church, and was ever present just beneath the surface riding side-by-side with common folklore.
There was was also the primary oddity that often dwells within the conscience of so many religions, as killing rears its ugly head. In Catholic, like many other theologies, killing in self-defense is allowable and those of us who served our country know full well that when pushed and sometimes even when not truly self-defense, shot first and asked few questions afterwords. The burden of defending with killing force is always sitting in wait, just below the surface in difficult circumstances for those commissioned to defense and to keep the peace, as well as to those up to no good. Blood, whether from within the natural menstrual cycle, or from rape, or birth or simply violence between humans, is in more remote and less “modern” nations, is never the less the theme along. Thus sexuality and the imagined punishments for submitting to it, or being raped, to the ancients a woman once pierced by a penis is, to one and all, “spoiled”, unclean.
However, despite Jesus’ view of killing, when faced with a situation of kill or be killed, there was little hesitation on the part of Merion, with some help in the cover-up from Shiva. As actress Carla Gugino recently said, “Sex is a wonderful thing. I’ve never understood how you can show 30 submachine guns firing … but not (show) a naked woman.” My thoughts exactly.
The Hindu god Shiva is not so coincidentally, “… the god of the yogis, self-controlled and celibate, while at the same time a lover of his spouse (shakti). Lord Shiva is the destroyer of the world, following Brahma the creator and Vishnu the preserver, after which Brahma then recreates the world. The god Shiva is responsible for change both in the form of death and destruction and in the positive sense of destroying the ego, the false identification with the form. This also includes the shedding of old habits and attachments.
“All that has a beginning by necessity must have an end. In destruction, truly nothing is destroyed but the illusion of individuality. Thus the power of destruction associated with Lord Shiva has great purifying power, both on a more personal level when problems make us see reality more clearly, as on a more universal level. Destruction opens the path for a new creation of the universe, a new opportunity for the beauty and drama of universal illusion to unfold. As Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram or Truth, Goodness and Beauty, Shiva represents the most essential goodness.” (Wiki)
Keep in mind that Merion’s Brother Shiva, the Charley Harper of the twins, is overtly sexual, a kind of opposite of the actual Shiva and of Merion, while Merion is the chaste brother whom is less restrained about killing than about sexual intercourse or apparently any other of the various means of sexual contact with the opposite sex.
And yet, late in the story Merion not only breaks his vow of chastity, but does so with a vengeance which borders on rape, again and again, with Genet, and in so doing the thing he avoided for so long, he nearly destroys himself in the process and his lover as well.
Dr. Abraham Verghese applies to this novel, a solid, mystical, and sober in Medieval Catholicism, which beliefs appears well-grounded in Catholic Theology. Here in this novel he rightly mixed Catholicism with the magic, folklore and superstitions of non-Christian converts and those who’s Christianity is bound up in the older beliefs which far preceded the arrival of Jesus. Such mixed faiths are similarly found even today in American (Most notably in New Orleans) and the Caribbean and nations which reluctantly converted to a sort of partial Christianity, which includes often much remodeled in many places around the world including Voodoo.
“The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa,” oversaw all of the activities of Sister Praise and continued behind the scenes quite literally from the photo of the great sculptural masterpiece of a beautiful woman in Orgasmic “Ecstasy” watching over the entire group of principal characters of the novel, characters surrounded by affronts ranging from rape, and horrific self-abuse and violence to menstrual bloodiness and more than just Medieval clitoral disfigurement.
The final location of the letter written by Sister Praise was not so surprising to some of us, as it was to others, missing the study of archaic religious forms.
The whereabouts of the letter were of little surprise to many of us who studied theology with Jesuits or other Progressive Theologians.
All, in all, not only was this a long and detailed novel about surgery and many other things, while the unspoken details were always just overhead in the being of the print of St. Teresa whose presence WAS the real story, as she guided the hearts, minds and souls of those over which she and Sister Praise appeared to be watching from the Great Beyond in a nation steeped in ancient religions, superstitions, cultural attachments to blood and guts, suffering and violence tied to a mix of Christianity and paganism conflated into one rather resourceful if often violent and bloody anomalies’.
Thus, the underlying theme of this book, was sexuality, lust, brutality, blood and most of all the sexual path that leads to birth, or as in this case often leads to pain, suffering and death for many in Third World Nations.
Here hovering just out mind/sight of casual readers was the theme of vagina, penis, blood, suffering, stress and superstitions that die almost as hard as do some of the people who mire themselves down, shot themselves in the foot constantly with incredibly complex and ornate rules and regulations based upon ignorance and seeming self loathing.
My view? The God which I know does not burden His people with such tangled and twisted superstition loaded constraints which compound the difficulties already inherent in life, making living almost unbearably impossible. Organized religions, mixed with their twisted views of the Almighty, contort and tangle their self-created god, into what I would see as a Demoniac god.
A human being who is enlightened by the real God within and without him/her. Is a target for all of the ignorance surrounding him or her. These impositions, these incredibly archaic rules, seem the opposite of Jesus wishes. Sexual encounters through out the New Testament are always and easily forgiven by Jesus, yet violence and greed are condemned and, in fact, though Jesus forgave anyone of their sexual encounters, there is no evidence anywhere of his ever forgiving even one greedy, rich man of the Love of money which Timothy and Paul rightfully say is the root cause of every evil.
Jesus brought freedom to human kind, organized religions brought ill-chosen constraints, chains and sadomasochism with which to bind God’s favored creatures thus making the beauteous physical and intellectual gift He free gave to us, a mill stone dragging human kind into a Hell within the Paradise here He prepared for us.
The underlying story, is the story of lust, love, human sexuality, blood violence, death and the festering self-destruction of humans, born, bred, grown, fed and inundated with primitive and erroneous beliefs about God, gods and the meaning of life. Through it all, surfacing often enough for only the most intuitive minds to sort out, string together and solve, was human sexuality, pregnancy, blood, life and death, but most of all lust, sex, and blood.
That is my take on cutting for stone, for the rest of the storyline chapter by chapter read the reviews, Cliff Notes or better still the book itself, CUTTING FOR STONE.