My Name Is Mary Sutter, by Robin Oliveira (New York: Viking, 2010)
"In this stunning historical novel, Mary Sutter is a brilliant, headstrong
midwife from Albany, New York, who dreams of becoming a surgeon.
Determined to overcome the prejudices against women in medicine -- and eager to run away from her recent heartbreak -- Mary leaves
home and travels to Washington, D.C. to help tend the legions of
Civil War wounded. Under the guidance of William Stipp and
James Blevens -- two surgeons who fall unwittingly in love with
Mary's courage, will, and stubbornness in the face of suffering -- and resisting her mother's pleas to return home to help with the
birth of her twin sister's baby, Mary pursues her medical career
in the desperately overwhelmed hospitals of the capital.
Like Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain and Robert Hicks's The Widow of the South, My Name Is Mary Sutter powerfully evokes
the atmosphere of the period. Rich with historical detail (including
marvelous depictions of Lincoln, Dorothea Dix, General McClellan,
and John Hay among others), and full of the tragedies and
challenges of wartime, My Name Is Mary Sutter is an exceptional
novel. And, in Mary herself, Robin Oliveira has created a truly
unforgettable heroine whose unwavering determination and
vulnerability will resonate with readers everywhere.
"'Are you Mary Sutter?' Hours had passed since James Blevens had called for the midwife."
Here's where the reviews get pretty terse and cursory. As I said, before I came to Boston, I spent a few weeks in Ohio. What I hadn't yet mentioned was that I almost got sent to Memphis for a few months. When that looked like a possibility, I began looking into what there was to keep myself busy after work and on weekends, and began making grand plans to indulge my interest in both Civil War and Civil Rights history. The trip didn't happen but a number of historical novels set during the Civil War did, and I'm still slogging my way through James M. McPherson's master single-volume work on the subject, Battle Cry of Freedom.
Anyway, I enjoyed Mary Sutter. If you enjoy Civil War stories and want one with a slightly different focus than you're used to, like books about iconoclastic women ahead of their time (as opposed to reviews by redundantly verbose readers!), or enjoy fiction that touches on the historical practice of medicine, give this one a try.
- Ithaca, New York
- MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.