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Review: “My Name Is Mary Sutter” by Robin Oliveira

March 7, 2010

I finished My Name Is Mary Sutter, the debut novel by Robin Oliveira, a few nights ago.  It reminded me of Sarah Blake’s The Postmistress, only set during a different war and, in my opinion, better.

Albany midwife Mary Sutter wants desperately to become a surgeon.  On the eve of the American Civil War, she has been rejected by Albany Medical School and turned down for an apprenticeship by James Blevens, a physician who has decided to join the army instead.  Out of options, Mary is desperate — and so, when Dorthea Dix puts out a call for nurses, Mary hurries to Washington even though she is too young to meet Miss Dix’s specifications and has brought no letters of reference.

Through impossible hardships, bone-numbing exhaustion, personal grief, guilt, and aspirations, Mary toils day after day to care for the wounded Union soldiers that flood the hospitals.  The story follows doctors and nurses, politicians and families — the people behind the front lines — as they find their way through war-torn lives.  Rich in historic detail, Oliveira’s writing takes you back to its historical setting a in a way many novels never achieve.

I especially loved this book because Mary Sutter is such a wonderful heroine.  You love her from the very beginning and cheer her on through the very last page.  She is just strong enough, fierce enough, vulnerable enough, human enough to capture your heart from start to finish.  If you are a lover of historical fiction, or if you enjoy a book about the triumph of the human spirit, check out My Name Is Mary Sutter when it’s published in May.

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