Not long ago, in Medalta pottery museum, I saw dishes ordered by Ethiopia's last emperor. Abraham Verghese's absorbing historical novel portrays a hospital in multi-ethnic Ethiopia under Haile Selassie. Colourful details include an ornery woodstove nicknamed Mussolini.
Besides the civil strife during and after Selassie's reign, this story tackles larger themes questions. How should I live my life, and what part does destiny play? Narrator Dr. Marion Stone's answer emulates the ideas of his beloved stepfather and admired mentor, Dr. Ghosh. The three Ls of life are love, learning and legacy.
Another pesky issue the book raises is the tension between the search for individual identity, and the need to live in community with those who are sometimes very different. Like Dr. Hema, the mother in the story, we all think we'll "have years to figure out the meaning of life." And yet.
We all need an occasional reminder to open our hearts and forgive those we think have wronged us. In Stone's case, those he is sure have betrayed him are first the father who abandoned him, then his identical twin brother Shiva and the first woman he falls in love with. Eventually, Marion is able to overcome the resentments he carries and return to wholeness. Experience and suffering have taught him a profound lesson: "the world turns on our every action and our every omission."