Prologue and Chapter 1 Summary
On September 20, 1954, twins were born in Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia. Shiva and Marion were born a month early in the very operating room in Missing Hospital in which their mother, Sister Mary Joseph Praise, a nun of the Diocesan Carmelite Order of Madras, spent most of her working hours. The big rain in Ethiopia had ended and everything was lush and verdant. Not one groan of pain, not one sound, escaped her lips as she gave birth to her twins, while just outside the door, the autoclave (sterilizing machine) “bellowed and wept.” Behind the great, noisy machine was the small sanctuary Sister Mary Joseph Praise built for herself during her seven years at Missing Hospital. It has become a shrine no one has touched since she died. On the wall hangs a calendar picture of Bernini’s famous sculpture of St. Teresa of Avila. When Marion was four he often went to this area and found peace, despite the noisy autoclave and his obsession to know the nun who gave birth to him. He would often ask, “When are you coming, Mama?” His only answer was the echo of his question on the bare walls and his own small answer, “By God!” It was a phrase spoken by Dr. Ghosh the first time he found Marion in this room and told him in a rumbling voice, “She is coming, by God!”
Forty-six years have passed, and Marion Stone finds himself again in his mother’s sanctuary. He has changed, but nothing else in this preserved shrine has done so except the print of Bernini’s Statue of St. Teresa, which is now framed under glass. Marion is here to put some order to his life, to say it began here, and from this time and place the next thing happened, and so on until he arrives at today.
As a young boy, Marion discovered his purpose in life—to be a physician. When he asked Matron, Missing Hospital’s “wise and sensible leader,” for advice, she asked him what is the hardest thing he could possibly do and told him he must do that because he is “an instrument of God” and should play to his full potential. Although the operating theater still makes him sweat and the idea of holding a scalpel causes his stomach to knot, he is a surgeon. Years later he is not a surgical genius, but he is the surgeon his colleagues call on because they know he is cautious, willing to ask for help, and eager to avoid surgery when possible. He follows the pattern set by his father, who believes the most successful operation is the one that never happens; his father reminds him of the Eleventh Commandment: “Thou shall not operate on the day of a patient’s death.”
Even now, when Marion faces a chest laid open, he is ashamed at the human capacity “to hurt and maim one another, to desecrate the body.” He is also moved by the harmony and ordinary miracles of the created, complex, and compact body. Each time he has such thoughts he thanks another surgeon, his twin brother, Dr. Shiva Praise Stone, for allowing him to be a surgeon. Shiva believes life is about fixing holes, and that is exactly what he does. But some holes cannot be mended—wounds that divide families—and it is the task of a lifetime to fix what is broken. The next generation will have to continue the work.
Marion was born in Africa, lived in exile in America, and is now back at the hospital and in the small operating theater in which he was born—the same place his mother and father both worked. Geography, he believes, is proof of destiny, and this is what has brought him back here. The sights and sounds are familiar and make him nostalgic for Shiva. The two of them slept in the same bed into their teens, and now every morning Marion wakes to the gift of a new day and wants to tell Shiva he owes this blessing to him. What Marion owes Shiva most, though, is to tell this story. It is a story Sister Mary Joseph Praise, their mother, did not tell. It is a story their “fearless father,” Thomas Stone, ran away from. Marion has had to piece the story together, and only its telling can heal the rift that separates him from his beloved twin brother. This is the kind of a wound not even a skilled surgeon can heal.
On the same day, Sister Mary Joseph Praise and Sister Anjali receive their nursing pins and take their final vows of celibacy, poverty, and obedience. Now they can be called “sister” both in the hospital and the convent. Almost immediately, these nineteen-year-old girls are sent as missionaries from India to Africa as the first members of the Madras Discalced Carmelite Mission to Africa. It is 1947, seven years before the twins are born.
Sister Mary Joseph Praise was raised on a chain of beautiful islands founded by Christians, but in high school she was moved by the passion of a “charismatic Carmelite nun” and abandoned that religious family tradition. Her parents were disappointed but would have been even more so if they had known she also became a nurse. On board the ship, she and Sister Anjali sequester themselves in their cabin and do their best to maintain the rites and rituals of the convent. On the sixth night, a portion of the deck splinters and buckles. On the ninth, night four passengers contract a fever—including Sister Anjali and one crew member. Sister Anjali is soon “raging in feverish delirium,” so Sister Mary Joseph Praise seeks out a young surgeon she met earlier. When she had stumbled on the wet metal stairs, he had grabbed her and easily righted her, though both were flustered by the unexpected intimacy. She had been struck then by his strength, but as she enters his cabin she discovers the young doctor is horribly sick.
She does not have much medical knowledge, but...
(The entire section is 2332 words.)