Summary: In this stunning first 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. -- Viking
Just when I thought I was getting a little tired of reading historical fiction, I discovered MY NAME IS MARY SUTTER by Robin Oliveira. I thought this book was fantastic! One of the reasons that I was so drawn to this book is that I have always been fascinated with the events surrounding the Civil War -- even as a child. I absolutely love reading stories that take place during this turbulent time in our country, and I think MY NAME IS MARY SUTTER just might be one of my new favorites.
MY NAME IS MARY SUTTER is the story of Mary Sutter, a young woman who desperately wants to become a surgeon. For years she has worked by her mother's side as a midwife; however, Mary aspires for more. Since no medical school will take her because she is a woman, Mary tries to learn everything she can from books. She even tries to get a doctor to take her under his wings and teach her to no avail. So she continues to work as a very successful midwife, and she doesn't give up. When war breaks out, Mary makes the choice to leave the comforts of her home to help the soldiers in any way possible -- and hopefully learn more about medicine in the process.
I absolutely loved Mary and I can promise you that she is a character that you will not soon forget. Mary is one of the most stubborn and persistent women that I've encountered in literature; however, she is also incredibly bright, strong and resilient. Mary is an extremely complex person and not without flaws, but I couldn't help but respect her intensity. While her perseverance was admirable at times, that same character trait managed to cause tremendous heartbreak for both Mary and her family. I found it extremely interesting to read about Mary's actions, and I enjoyed seeing how she evolved throughout this novel.
Although I thought Ms. Oliveira did a great job in creating Mary, there were also many other wonderfully developed characters in this story besides her. I thought the members of Mary's family were interesting, and I loved seeing their interactions with Mary (namely her mother and her twin sister.) And I really liked the two male doctors that Mary worked with. But I was especially impressed with how Ms. Oliveira portrayed the real-life characters in this novel. Dorothy Dix and a few of the military leaders weren't depicted in the best light (although it was most likely a pretty honest one); however, I thought she portrayed President Lincoln in a very likable (yet believable) manner.
At its heart, MY NAME IS MARY SUTTER is about Mary's incredible journey to become a doctor. It is not any easy road for her; and at times, I thought my heart would just break. Mary faces so many hardships from a lost love, to constant rejection, to tending to dying soldiers. And yet, I felt the book still left me with a feeling of hope. I don't want to include any spoilers, but I can definitely say that I was satisfied with the ending of this novel.
I was quite surprised that MY NAME IS MARY SUTTER is Ms. Oliveira's debut novel. I thought her writing was terrific and I also appreciated her character development. She truly is a gifted storyteller and her descriptions are so wonderfully detailed. But I was also extremely impressed with the amount of research she must have conducted while writing this novel. Obviously, she had to really learn about the people and events surrounding the Civil War, but she also wrote extensively about the medical care during that time period. I was honestly blown away by the amount of facts incorporated into this story. Ms. Oliveira managed to not only capture the essence of this time period, but she did a great job of incorporating the factual events with the fictional ones -- the true test of what makes historical fiction great! If you'd like to learn more about the background of this novel, check this out.
MY NAME IS MARY SUTTER would make a fantastic book club pick if your group enjoys reading historical fiction. It is a wonderful story, but I also think most people will appreciate how much they can learn from this novel. There is a reading guide available which has some wonderful and thought-provoking questions, but I also think you will come up with a lot more to talk about on your own. Some of the topics you might want to further explore include the effects of war, the role of women, family dynamics, sibling rivalry, love, grief, and forgiveness.
I highly recommend MY NAME IS MARY SUTTER for anyone who enjoys historical fiction or enjoys reading books about the Civil War. As you can clearly tell, I just loved this book and can't stop thinking about it!
And here's the exciting news! I'm thrilled to announce that the publisher has graciously offered to giveaway two copies of NY NAME IS MARY SUTTER! To enter, just leave a comment (with a valid email address) telling me why you want to read this book. The contest will be open until Sunday, May 30th at 11:59 p.m. ET, and I will notify the winner the following day. This contest is open to those of you with a U.S. mailing address only. Good Luck!
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a review copy of this novel.