By Caitlin Kelly
I very rarely read fiction, so it was a bit of luck that I recently found — in, of all places, on the book/magazine recycling shelf near our apartment building’s laundry room — two terrific novels.
“Cutting For Stone” is by physician Abraham Verghese, and I’d read the rapturous reviews and thought, not for me. It’s a long, winding tale of twin brothers born in Ethiopia and their lives. Both become doctors. I might never have bought this book, his first novel, or borrowed it from the library, but there it was — free for the taking.
I found many elements of the book compelling. He really knows, (and researched, as he included voluminous notes at the back), Ethiopia and its history and geography, so I felt literally transported. I’ve never been there and might never get there, so I enjoyed that.
His characters were clear, strong, sympathetic. He describes many medical situations in a way no one but a doctor could write so persuasively; I loved his insider story of his character’s training in a poor Bronx hospital, especially.
And I loved the cover image: mysterious, enticing, colorful.
The other book was “Tell the Wolves I’m Home”, by Carol Rifka Brunt.
I also loved its cover — that exotic teapot is important to the plot.
This one resonated for me on so many levels!
It’s told through the eyes of a 13 year-old girl and unravels a mystery about her beloved uncle who has recently died. I won’t give it away, but it’s a terrific read. She, like me, lives in a town in Westchester County, just north of New York City, so all the references registered for me as deeply familiar.
I also covered the AIDS crisis, as a newspaper reporter, as it unfolded in the mid 1980s in North America — the book is set in that time period and addresses that issue, and powerfully brings back what it felt like, then, to know people dying of it and how the world was reacting to them then.
The first book is about two brothers, once close, who become estranged for years; the second book is about two estranged sisters who move from hostility back to closeness.
(I was raised an only child so have no daily notion of what it’s like to live with siblings. One of books’ many gifts is bringing us into worlds we will never experience ourselves.)
I highly recommend both.
(Whoever is leaving those books downstairs absolutely shares my taste — I’ve also found and read The Dive From Clausen’s Pier and One Day, both of which I also really enjoyed. It feels like Christmas on that shelf!)
This New York Times review of the TDFCP praises what I also found extremely well-drawn — what it feels like to arrive in New York City knowing not a soul and re-inventing yourself.
I don’t read science fiction, romance, chick lit, horror or YA, but…
What have you read recently I should reach for next?
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