“My Name is Mary Sutter”3/25/2015
“My Name is Mary Sutter” is the story of a strong-willed young midwife from Albany, New York, who is determined to become a surgeon at a time when women were largely barred from that career path. When the Civil War breaks out, Mary defies her mother by traveling to Washington, D.C., to help tend the wounded. Although she is frequently nearly overcome by the horror she witnesses, Mary proves herself extraordinarily capable, and in the end (spoiler alert) achieves her dream.
The book’s author, Robin Oliveira, is a Registered Nurse by profession, and her knowledge of medicine and insight into its practice are evident in her vivid descriptions. With the germ theory of disease not yet recognized, surgery is performed in atrociously unsterile conditions, spreading infection among the soldiers. The number of deaths that can be attributed to disease, malnutrition and other conditions not related to combat is made staggeringly clear. A doctor with whom Mary works struggles to muster the resources for microscopic research, hoping advancements in medicine will somehow keep the hundreds of thousands of casualties from being in vain.
As in all the best historical fiction, Mary encounters a number of real-life historical figures including Dorothea Dix, Clara Barton and even, briefly, Abraham Lincoln. Compelling family drama and several concurrent love stories add a human dimension to this absorbing novel.
“My Name is Mary Sutter” is the 2015 Iowa Center for the Book All Iowa Reads Selection. Robin Oliveira will speak and sign books at the Des Moines Public Library Central Library Monday, April 20 at 7 p.m. as part of the library’s annual AViD (Authors Visiting in Des Moines) series. CV
Sally Wisdom retired from the Des Moines Public Library in 2011 and found her dream job at Beaverdale Books soon after.