22 July 2011

My Name is Mary Sutter; Robin Oliveira

My Name is Mary SutterMy Name is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Let me just say that Civil War historical fiction is not my preferred read, so my giving this three stars shows that I was pleasantly surprised by this novel.

We start in pre-war Albany with the three Sutter women, two of whom are midwives. One night Mary, the daughter, is on her way to see Dr. James Blevens - who, by coincidence, needs her help delivering a baby. Mary's purpose is to apprentice herself to become a surgeon and James turns her down. The war starts, and she travels to Washington to become a nurse, where Dorothea Dix also turns her down. Despite this, Mary forces her way into the Union Hotel and ultimately learns how to do amputations. Throughout the war, Mary proves again and again that she is not only capable of doing hard, "men's" work, but also that she doesn't take no for an answer.

The medical conditions are primitive, to say the least. And looking at their methods with 21st century eyes, brutal and barbaric. Mary's protofeminist attitude that she's smart and capable is interesting, particularly as it doesn't have modern overtones. I was less excited with the cameos from Miss Dix, President Lincoln and his cabinet. There were one too many coincidences in the story (James needing Mary just as she was heading there, Mary going to the Union Hotel and meeting James' mentor, etc.), and I got tired of the continual reminders that Mary was not a beautiful woman.

Copy provided by publisher.

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