Set primarily in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, during the mid–twentieth century, Cutting for Stone opens at the Missing Hospital with the unexpected and miraculous birth of Marion and Shiva to Sister Mary Joseph Praise. Marion narrates the story and says that all stories must begin at the beginning, at which point the narrative flashes back to Sister Mary Joseph Praise’s journey to Ethiopia.

Sent on a mission to bring enlightenment to Africa, Sister Mary and her friend Sister Anjali begin their voyage from India onboard the Calangute. Before reaching their destination, a severe case of typhus takes over the ship, and Sister Anjali falls gravely ill. Sister Mary attempts to secure the services of the doctor onboard, yet she finds that Dr. Thomas Stone is ill, himself, with a strange fever. Sister Mary nurses him back to health, but Sister Anjali succumbs to the disease. Upon arriving at port, Thomas clumsily attempts to persuade Sister Mary to accompany him to the Mission Hospital (pronounced “Missing” by the local Ethiopians), but she refuses, saying that her mission will have her go to Aden, Yemen. However, Aden is far from a paradise, and Sister Mary flees the country and goes to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, where Matron Hirst receives her in a pitiful state. After she rests and recovers, Sister Mary accompanies Thomas in surgery and serves as his nurse.

Sister Mary’s assistance ends abruptly when she goes into labor in her bedroom. Thomas is shocked by her pallid face and the endless blood coming from her pubic area. He falls to his knees and realizes that for the past seven years, he has been in love with the nun. He awkwardly takes her in his arms and rushes to Operating Theatre 3 with Matron Hirst close behind. Dr. Stone, normally adept, freezes in the operating room. Matron, knowing but not wanting to admit that the nun is pregnant, tries to take over the procedure. Just then the hospital’s gynecologist, Dr. Kalpana Hemlatha, returns from her trip to Djibouti. She runs to the operating room and performs a Cesarean section to birth the twins and discovers a lacerated uterus and a tube connecting the twins by the head. Frightened but feeling that there is no other choice, Hema separates the twins, and Sister Mary dies in the matron’s arms. Thomas is destroyed by the death of the woman he loves. He refuses to look at the boys, and he leaves the hospital for good. Having felt a loss at not having her own children, Hema decides to raise the babies. She names one boy Marion, after a well-respected women’s surgeon, and the other Shiva, after an Indian god. She gives them the name Praise in honor of their mother and—thinking that one can never escape his identity—the surname Stone.

The next day, Dr. Ahbi Ghosh, the third staff doctor, and Matron Hirst resume duties in the clinic, but they send any patients needing surgery to the military clinic. Soon they discuss funeral arrangements for Sister Mary, and they leave Missing Hospital to go to Gulele Cemetery. On the way out, Matron Hirst avoids Mr. Elihu Harris, a representative of the Baptist congregation in Texas that largely funds the hospital because she has been dishonest about where the donations have gone. Matron Hirst chooses to deal with Harris later and focuses her attention on choosing a plot at Gulele but decides that the cemetery is not suitable for Sister Mary. Instead, she and Ghosh choose a plot in the fields behind Missing Hospital, and they bury Sister Mary in the fields she loved.

Before Sister Mary’s funeral, Matron Hirst receives a phone call from a government minister on behalf of Emperor Haile Selassie, requesting that a particular soldier be turned over to the government if he should seek services at the hospital. But the matron advises the doctors to treat this man in honor of their oath to care for the sick, and when Colonel Mebratu arrives a few days later suffering from a twisted bowel, Ghosh does his best to treat him anyway. Ghosh recognizes this man as one who performed an execution of civilians on the roadside several years before. Mebratu admits to being forced by the government to perform the execution and says that the victims were his friends. He also tells Ghosh that his brother had been the operator of a health clinic that was closed by the government for lack of funding. He is angry that the government stands by while his countrymen suffer, and he admits to being part of plans to create an uprising.

Later, Mr. Elihu Harris finds his way to Missing and greets Matron Hirst. Rather than turn him away, she decides to show him the harsh reality faced by the...

(The entire section is 1880 words.)