I really enjoyed this book. It was compelling and well written and insightful and just overall worth every moment.
I felt like I learned something about Ethiopian history and surgery. I enjoyed Verghese's descriptions of both the landscape, the political climate, and the operation theatre. I also found out that Rastafarians are really supporters of Ras Teferi (the Emperor of Ethipia) and that a goatherd discovered coffee after noticing that his animals became "frisky" when chewing red berries.
Mostly, though, I loved his quirky commentary throughout. Truisms with a bit of wit thrown in, such as: "Life, too, is like that. You live it forward, but understand it backward. It is only when you stop and look to the rear that you see the corpse caught under your wheel." and "This was what growing up was about: hide the corpse, don't bare your heart, do make assumptions about the motives of others. They're certainly doing all these things to you." and "The world turns on our every action, and our every omission, whether we know it or not."
Ultimately, the lesson is that we should learn to enjoy the moment and our loved ones(rather than focus too much on work and achievement). As he says with the slipper analogy: "The key to your happiness is to own your slippers, own who you are, own how you look, own your family, own the talents you have and own the ones you don't." Ghosh is the best at appreciating things and living in the moment; while Marion is the narrator, Ghosh is really the hero of the book. We see another smiling, dying man later in the novel when Marion has to break the news about his cancer to Mr. Walters who responds: "that's what makes us human. We always want more."
Ross tries to teach this lesson to Thomas Stone: "You're my consolation for never having married. That wasn't by choice, by the way--not being married. 'Perfection of the life or of the work' I could only do the one. I hope you don't make that mistake." but Stone does not listen. It is not until Sister Mary Joseph Praise is on her deathbed that Stone realizes that he has missed the opportunity to love. And, instead of remembering Ross's advice at that point, he flees.
Similarly, Marion buries himself in work throughout and (as a result of his heartbreak, just like Thomas) refuses to get involved in a relationship. Verghese does a great job of showing the repeating patterns throughout the generations (Ross as surrogate father to Thomas, just as Ghosh was to Marion; both of them putting work ahead of everything else), without making these repeated mistakes feel fabricated.
Tsige offers Marion an opportunity to break from the pattern. She is the first person to whom Marion bares his soul in regards to Genet and she loves him enough to ask him to go home and think things through. At this point, inertia takes over and Marion (despite knowing that he needs a dimension to his life that did not involve work) does not contact her and ultimately Genet comes back into the picture.
I was quite frustrated at the way that EVERYTHING bad in Marion's life ultimately comes back to Genet in some way. My one complaint about the book was that Genet was essentially the devil incarnate for Marion. From the moment she has sex with Shiva, every time her name occurs something bad happens in the novel.
I think there could have been other mechanisms through which Verghese could have caused Marion to leave Ethiopia (what if his name came up in relation to the hijacking because his former medical school roommate was the rebel?) and he could have contracted TB and Hep B from a patient or he could have had random sex with a prostitute (who gives him the diseases) after leaving Tsige and feeling (erroneously) rejected.
It was just too melodramatic that it was all caused by Genet. Even Verghese's writing on this was overblown (as compared to the rest of the novel): "I wasn't angry with Genet. She was consistent, if nothing else. I was angry with myself because I still loved her, or at least I loved that dream of our togetherness. My feelings were unreasonable, irrational, and I couldn't change them. That hurt." BUT ISN'T HE CONSISTENT TOO? How is this "revelation" anything new? Why would he praise her for consistency but not acknowledge that he is being consistent (if irrational) himself. Later, once he finds out she is dead, he thinks: "only her death could ensure that we didn't keep tearing each other apart." but he has NEVER torn her apart. That is precisely the point, it is his own vulnerability that is the issue here, never hers. I just thought that Verghese went overboard in trying to portray this relationship at times.
It reminded me at bit of John Irving's Son of a Circus. Partly because both novels have twins (altho SOC has separated twins who are unaware of the other) in search of parentage, some of the writing was reminiscent of Irving, and maybe it was the Indian thing. This is not a criticism, just a comment; I'm a huge Irving fan.
Overall, it was a solid piece, definitely worth the read.