Thursday, February 13, 2020


I loved Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. He's another physician-writer (my childhood dream!) and I was so immersed I could practically smell the little Missing hospital. I loved all the details of medicine practiced in the tropics, the creativity of doctors operating on a shoestring budget, the wisdom of never forgetting that sometimes the best part is being touched by another human being. I already shared a bit of wisdom from Dr. Stone with a nursing student.
"Tell me, what treatment in an emergency is administered by the ear? The answer: Words of comfort." Don't you just love that? But I will never forgive him for giving a bad end to one of my favorite characters. Oh how I cried. I wanted to beat his chest. For I know that even if this is fiction, there's no fiction without facts. He also made me laugh aloud with delight. I want to quote here one of my favorite scenes about Shiva, who's wired differently than most children. The narrator is his identical twin, Marion (yes, it's a boy--you'll find out when you read the book).

"One  of you scored a perfect one hundred. But he or she didn't write a name on the paper. The rest of you were miserable. Sixty-six percent of you failed," he exclaimed. "What do you think of that number? Sixty-six!"
For Shiva, rhetorical questions were a trap. He never asked a question to which he knew the answer. Shiva raised his hand. I cringed in my seat. Mr. Bailey's eyebrow went up, as if a chair in the corner which he'd managed to ignore for a few months had suddenly developed delusions that it was alive.
"You have something to say?"
"Sixty-six is my second-favorite number," Shiva said.
"Pray, why is it your second favorite?" said Bailey.
"Because if you take the numbers you can divide into sixty-six, including sixty-six, and add them up, what you have is a square."
Mr. Bailey couldn't resist. He wrote down 1, 2, 3, 6, 11, 22, 33, and 66--all the numbers that went into 66--and then he totaled. What he got was 144, at which point both he and Shiva said, "Twelve squared!"
"That's what makes sixty-six special," Shiva said. "It's also true of three, twenty-two, sixty-six, seventy--their divisors add up to a square."
"Pray, tell us what's your favorite number," Bailey said, no sarcasm in his voice anymore, "since sixty-six is your second favorite?"
Shiva jumped up to the board, uninvited, and wrote: 10,213,223.
Bailey studied this for a long while, turning a bit red. Then he threw up his hands in a gesture that struck me as very ladylike. "And pray, why would this number interest us?"
"The first four numbers are your license plate." From Mr. Bailey's expression, I didn't think he was aware of this. "That's a coincidence," Shiva went on. "This number," Shiva said, tapping on the board with the chalk, getting as excited as Shiva allowed himself to get, "is the only number that describes itself when you read it. 'One zero, two ones, three twos, and two threes!" Then my brother laughed in delight, a sound so rare that our class was stunned. He brushed chalk off his hands, sat down, and he was done. 
It was the only bit of mathematics that stayed with me from that year. As for the student who scored one hundred percent?--whoever it was had drawn a picture of Veronica on the test paper in lieu of a name.

The entire book is filled with such wonderful stuff! It also brings alive the people and culture of Ethiopia. Now I long to visit. Some say the Ark of the Covenant is there.

I've not read a travel book in ages but Michael got Walking Calcutta for me for my birthday. Because it's really happening! I'm going!!! All thanks to Max--because he wanted to stay longer to serve with Mother Teresa's sisters. So when his group from Ave Maria leaves, I'll join him to work alongside him and the sisters. Please pray for us! I can't even express the joy of having this opportunity to be in my homeland with my son, walking in the footsteps of one of the greatest saints, caring for the sick, disabled, and dying. I realize why the poor will always be with us--for our salvation.

I got Cool-Minded Home Wine-Making by Kemet Spence for Michael. Kemet was my undergraduate advisor and was not only a terrific mentor but became a friend. He taught me practical microbiology and I'm so grateful that he compiled what he knows about making wine into this book. I'm looking forward to having Kemet's expert guidance in my life again.   

And speaking of practical, I decided to resubscribe to FundsforWriters (how else am I supposed to get to Calcutta and back?) and was delighted to discover that C. Hope Clark is a Carolina girl with her own series of mysteries set in the Lowcountry. The first is Lowcountry Bribe and I'm enjoying it very much, especially since it's based on her own experience working at the USDA. I wasn't quite sure what to expect. It felt like a cozy because the main character, Slade, is so real--lovable, flawed, a regular working mama, but one who knows how to use a gun. But the book started with a bang and is filled with unsavory characters, including the husband. I loved the relationship she has with her daddy and that's why I was surprised at the creep she ended up marrying. Still, it has one of the most realistic portrayals of a marriage in trouble. Warning, it's graphic. This is a hard-boiled mystery, not a cozy. I enjoyed the details of rural life; it's what I prefer over city life. I loved these lines:
"Panic coursed through me at the altered state. Like hearing that your churchgoing mother liked bourbon straight and sex on top." 

Many years ago, when I was a newbie writer I used to check out FundsforWriters so that my writing would pay for itself and I'm quite sure I got many leads. Thank you, Hope! And it makes me so happy that she updated the Shy Writer--it's definitely a wakeup call for this introvert. Check it out. It's chock-full of inspiration and practical advice. I stumbled upon many of her tricks independently and will attest that the advice she gives works. I just need to practice it more.


Barbara Etlin said...

Very cool that you're going to Calcutta! Also happy birthday!Thanks for the reading suggestions. I've been looking for fresh reads.

Mirka Breen said...

A number that describes itself :) Perfect for number lovers

Vijaya said...

Barb, thank you. I hope you enjoy some of these. I keep forgetting to review my kindle books--out of sight, out of mind.

Mirka, I do love numbers. This book has a lot of details of tropical medicine, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

janlcoates said...

I read CUTTING FOR STONE a few years ago, and I remember being very affected by it, although the details escape me:) Thanks for sharing.

Vijaya said...

Jan, I've always loved medically-inspired stories but Cutting for Stone was a tour de force!

Jenni said...

Exciting that you're going to Calcutta! Looking forward to hearing about your travels! I think the Shy Writer sounds right up my alley. Thanks for these great suggestions!