By J. Rentilly IT IS SAID THAT THE PEN is mightier than the sword. The larger question, raised by a long, illustri- ous line of physician-authors, including Anton Chekhov, W. Somerset Maugham and Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone, may be, is the pen also mightier than the stethoscope? “My writing flows out of my doctorhood. They are not separate things. They are one,” says 54-year-old Verghese, whose semi- autobiographical Stone has achieved blockbuster success. “I think the fore- most connection between being a doctor and being a writer is the great privilege of having an intimate view of one’s fellow humans, the privilege of being there and helping other people at their most vulnerable moments.” Indeed, Verghese, professor and associate chair for the theory and practice of medicine at Stanford University, is widely praised for his “bedside medicine”—an uncommon practice in the Western world—which promotes doctors deeply connecting with patients in an effort to truly heal them, as opposed to merely patching them up. “I remember hearing the expression ‘God is in the details’ both when I was in medical school and in creative writing classes,” he says. “And it’s true: When [I] take a patient history, what [am I] doing but hearing a story, matching it with my repertoire of other stories, filling it out with what I know and what I feel.” Born in Ethiopiatoparents from India, Verghese moved to America in his early 20s, establishing him- Pennie Clark Ianniciello Costco Book Buyer self as a fearless and compassionate doctor with his bold, mid-’80s work in the front lines of the AIDS epidemic. Behind the scenes, he was “using fiction to capture, explain and understand” the profound and profoundly moving things he was witnessing. “I was surrounded by these young men, my age, who were dying, teaching me that life is short, that you must chase your passions, your dreams,” he recalls. He submitted two of his short stories to the prestigious Iowa Writers Workshop and was accepted. He says, “It forced me to take myself seriously as a writer.” Verghese published two success- ful nonfiction books— My Own Country, about his AIDS practice and small-town experiences in Tennessee, and The Tennis Partner, about a physi- cian friend who succumbed to drug addiction and suicide. Cutting for Stone began with his ambition to “tell a great story, an old-fashioned, truth-telling story,” he says, and the image of a beau- tiful Indian nun giving birth in a mission hospital in Africa. Beyond that, he was along for the ride, enjoying the sense of discovering his story, as opposed to reporting it, as he had in his nonfiction. The novel took eight years to complete, going through seemingly endless revisions and renewals. “In writing, as in medicine, there are no short cuts,” Verghese says. “You need stamina.” Today, he splits his time between teaching med- icine and practicing it, and writing a follow up to Stone. He enjoys an unusual, if not unprecedented, arrangement with Stanford University, which treats his creative writing as the equivalent of another phy- sician’s research, while also offering the good doctor two campus offices, one for medicine and another for his writing—“with someone else’s name on the door, so it’s kind of hidden,” he laughs. “I disappear there two days a week to write.” Verghese still has the time to count his bless- ings, as Stone continues to generate new and vigor- ous passion, even moving some readers to become doctors themselves. “There is that lovely feeling of one reader telling another, ‘You must read this!’ ” he says. “I’ve always wanted to write a book like that, with the sense that you are contributing to the dis- course in middle America, a discourse that begins at a book club in a living room, but then spreads. That is meaning- ful to me.” C J. Rentilly is a Los Angeles–based journalist. Abraham Verghese
FRANCE FREEMAN FRANCE FREEMAN
FEBRUARY 2010 ;e Costco Connection 33
Doctor, write thyself
For Abraham Verghese,
writing is powerful medicine
I ENVY ANYONE who is
reading this month’s Book
Buyer’s Pick, Abraham
Verghese’s Cutting for
Stone, for the first time.
Verghese’s prose is elegant
as he tells the story of a nun
who dies in childbirth, her
twin boys and the father
who abandons them.
COSTCO HAS 50 copies of Abraham Verghese’s
Cutting for Stone with signed bookplates
to give away. For a chance to win, send an
e-mail with your name and mailing address
email@example.com, with “Abraham
Verghese” in the subject line. Or print your
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Verghese, The Costco Connection, P.O. Box
34088, Seattle, WA 98124-1088.
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time of entry. One entry per household. Entries must be received by
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