Tuesday, January 4, 2011

My Name is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira

In My Name is Mary Sutter, it's the dawn of the American Civil War and Mary Sutter is a midwife, just like her mother, Amelia. However, Mary really wants to become a surgeon. There are many prejudices against women, though, and she is turned away by everyone she approaches about it. After her heart is broken by a young man, she runs off to Washington D.C. and offers her services in the war effort. She's met with more resistance, but eventually is able to pursue her medical career.

This is such a wonderful book. It really is a fascinating look at certain aspects of the American Civil War. Rather than take us to the front lines of the war, the book shows us the back rooms, where decisions are made, and the make shift hospitals and morgues, where the doctors and nurses help the injured and comfort the dying. The story gets a little gory at times, but that just enhances the story and highlights the horror of war, the deplorable conditions and the archaic medical procedures of the time.

I loved that the book featured some real life characters who played a part in the American Civil War. These include: Abraham Lincoln, Dorothea Dix, John Hay and General McClellan. Unfortunately, I know almost nothing about the American Civil War and Lincoln was the name that was familiar to me. I should have studied up a little so that I'd know who some of the players were and knew a little more about the war itself. No doubt that would have enhanced my reading experience. I enjoyed the book nevertheless.

Mary Sutter was such a great character. Her determination to be a surgeon was commendable. Even when she was turned away time after time, she persevered and didn't let it deter her. The decisions she had to make were gut wrenching and I didn't once envy her position. I also loved the scenes depicting Lincoln at work. According to the author, she "stayed true to the public record" of his activities. I found it all very interesting.

The "Acknowledgements" section at the beginning of the book is well worth the read. Besides thanking others, Oliveira writes a little about her research methods, which I always find fascinating. I admit that I sometimes skip these sections, but I'm glad I took the time to read this one.

This book contained quite a few new-to-me words. Here's the list:
monaural (page 1): hearing with just one ear
comported (page 15): to behave or be consistent
munificence (page 30): very generous
groggery (page 52): saloon
freshet (page 69): sudden flood
quixotic (page 147): idealistic
peripatetic (page 162): drifting
haversack (page 164): bag, backpack
suppuration (page 170): ooze pus
abstemiousness (page 181): sobriety
abattoirs (page 236): slaughterhouse
ameliorated (page 270): improved
temerity (page 286): nerve, boldness
perspicacious (page 319): insightful

Highly recommended.

For more information about this book or to browse inside, please visit Penguin's website.

For more information about the author, please visit Robin Oliveira's website.

I'd like to thank those nice people at Penguin for this review copy.

My Name is Mary Sutter: A Novel by Robin Oliveira, Viking (Penguin), ©2010. ISBN 9780670021673(Hardcover), 364p.

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