What do you think this novel says about exile and the immigrant experience?
Verghese's work speaks to the idea that the immigrant experience is one in which there is not a real or full separation from the elements of one's home. There is a form of a "divided consciousness" in the heart of one who is exiled or one who is an immigrant. Little, if anything, is "clean." One sees this in Stone, himself. At one point, he flees from his world, from his sons, thinking that he can rid himself of the pain of the past. In the end, his sons end up finding him and he must overcome his own pain and fear to perform surgery to save their lives. Marion is in a similar predicament. His exile to New York could be seen as a chance to escape Ethiopia. Yet, embers of his past help to dominate his life in the new world. He ends up bringing memory and remembrance to a place that lacks it. Verghese might be suggesting that consciousness is a complex entity. When a person goes to another land, through emigration or through exile, they are not necessarily able to fully rid themselves of their past. The immigrant experience is one in which individuals live a "double life" both in the new world and internally, in the world of old.
One way to think about Cutting for Stone is to think about dualities, such as the duality Marion shares with his twin brother Shiva, and the duality of existing as both American and Ethiopian. It is tempting, as a character crosses national borders, to let the crossing of a border symbolize change. For example, when Marion crosses the border into the US, one is tempted to label him as "immigrant" or "in exile." While these labels may be literally accurate, the connotations may not be. Marion attempts to immigrate away from his conflicts and leave his painful memories of Ethiopa behind, but they are as present in his psyche in the US as they were before. In fact, he finds himself yearning for the comforts of the nation from which he fled. In some ways, the estrangement of living in New York City forces Marion to turn toward Ethiopia, lovingly, for the first time in the novel. As a result, Verghese seems to suggest that the immigrant experience is not one of complete exile but instead an experience of dual identities.
When Marion flees Ethiopia and comes to New York to work in Our Lady of Perpetual Succour hospital, life there initially seems gray to him. It is a hospital for the poor, and while it is far better equipped and less faced with the continual crisis and upheaval that marked medical work in Ethiopia, Marion's world feels dulled down and less filled with color. He might have stumbled upon his father, but his heart is clearly back in Ethiopia. When he finds an Ethiopian restaurant where he can eat such native foods as injera and wot, he is delighted. Ethiopia might have been a far poorer, more chaotic country, but it was filled with dynamic life and soul for Marion in a way the richer U.S. cannot match.
The novel is saying we can't get away from our roots or our family. They are what form us and what we depend on, and at least for Marion, they are a great good.