Sunday, May 23, 2010
My Name Is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira
But events are about to overtake everyone's life in America. The War Between the States is beginning, and families are torn asunder and cultural conventions are changed forever. Mary leaves her family and moves to Washington where she hopes to achieve her goal. Her brother, her brother-in-law and the local doctor that denied her all enlist. Mary becomes a nurse in a hospital in Washington.
As time goes on, the doctor in charge of the hospital realises that Mary is different from the other nurses, and that she has the ability to do more. Hospitals and doctors are overwhelmed with soldiers, both wounded in battle or taken ill with one of the epidemics that swept Army camps. With so much need, throwing away the talents of anyone willing to help is not possible. As the war progresses, Mary gets her chance to learn medicine and become a surgeon.
Robin Oliveira has created a book that will remain in readers' minds long after the last page is read. Neither war nor early medicine is glorified or simplified. The butual cruelty and waste is laid bare. Readers learn the history of President Lincoln's decisions and his inability to get talented generals. It is difficult to imagine how different war was with the limited medical knowledge available. This was the first war with mass amputations. Doctors learned from these about keeping wounded individuals alive. Sanitation's role was unknown, as were most medicines and procedures. The breaking apart of families by war is also portrayed realistically. There was no ability to communicate easily; letters could take weeks to arrive. Transportation and getting from one city to another took days if not weeks. A soldier might be dead for weeks or months before the news got back home to his family.
This book is recommended for historical fiction readers, and well as those interested in how women fought the bonds that kept them from the professions. Many historical fiction books are written in medieval times. While those are interesting, this look at our own country a century or so ago is breaktaking. This is Robin Oliveira's first novel. I know I'll be anxiously awaiting her next one.