My Name Is Mary Sutter: A Novel

My Name Is Mary Sutter: A Novel

by Robin Oliveira

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780143119135
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/29/2011
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 114,235
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Robin Oliveira holds a BA in Russian, and studied at the Pushkin Language Institute in Moscow. She received an MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and is also a registered nurse, specializing in critical care. She lives in Seattle, Washington. The New York Times bestseller My Name Is Mary Sutter is her first novel.

Read an Excerpt

"Are you Mary Sutter?" Hours had passed since James Blevens had called for the midwife. All manner of shouts and tumult drifted in from the street, and so he had answered the door to his surgery rooms with some caution, but the young woman before him made an arresting sight: taller and wider than was generally considered handsome, with an unflattering hat pinned to an unruly length of curls, though an enticing brightness about the eyes compensated. "Mary Sutter, the midwife?" he asked.

"Yes, I am Mary Sutter." The young woman looked from the address she had inscribed that afternoon in her small, leather-bound notebook to the harried man in front of her, wondering how he could possibly know who she was. He was all angles, and his sharp chin gave the impression of discipline, though his uncombed hair and unbuttoned vest were damp with sweat.

"Oh, thank God," he said, and catching her by the elbow, pulled her inside and slammed the door shut on the cold April rain and the stray warble of a bugle in the distance. James Blevens knew Mary Sutter only by reputation. She is good, even better than her mother, people said. Now, he formed an indelible impression of attractiveness, though there was nothing attractive about her. Her features were far too coarse, her hair far too wild and already beginning to silver. People said she was young, but you could not tell that by looking at her. She was an odd one, this Mary Sutter.

A kerosene lantern flickered in the late afternoon dimness, revealing shelves of medical instruments: scales, tensile prongs, hinged forceps, monoral and chest stethoscopes, jars of pickled fetal pigs, ether stoppered in azure glass, a femur bone stripped in acid, a human skull, a stomach floating in brine, jars of medicines, an apothecary's mortar and pestle. Mary could barely tear her eyes from the bounty.

"She is here, at last," the man said over his shoulder. Mary Sutter peered into the darkness and saw a young woman lying on an exam table, a blanket thrown across her swollen belly, betraying the unmistakable exhaustion of late labor.

"Yes, yes," he said, waving her question away with irritation. "Didn't my boy send you here?"

"No. I came to see you on my own. Are you Doctor Blevens?"

"Of course I am."

Now that her chance had come, Mary felt almost shy, the humiliation of her afternoon rearing up, along with the anger that had propelled her here, looking for a last chance.

"Doctor Blevens, I came here today-" Mary stopped and exhaled. All the hope of the past year spilled over as she stumbled over her words. "Today I sat in the lobby of the medical college for four hours waiting for Doctor Marsh, and he didn't even have the courtesy to see me." Mary shut out the memory of her afternoon spent in the unwelcoming misery of the Albany Medical College, where after several hours the corpulent clerk had finally hissed, Doctor Marsh no longer wishes to receive letters of application from you, so you are to respectfully desist in any further petition.

"When he refused to see me, I decided to come and ask something of you," Mary said.

"Would you mind asking me later?" Blevens asked, propelling Mary toward the young woman. "I need your help. This is Bonnie Miles. Her husband dropped her here early this afternoon. He said she has lost a child before-her first. I think the baby's head is stuck."

Mary pulled off her gloves and unwrapped her shawl, her quest forgotten for the moment, all her attention focused on the woman's exhaustion and youth. Bonnie was small-boned, tiny in all her features, too young, Mary thought, perhaps fifteen, maybe seventeen.

She resembled Jenny. It was something about the way she spoke, the shape of her lips against her teeth. It was then that Mary knew she had to guard against the resemblance, for her antipathy to her sister might cause her to be unkind toward this girl who needed her.

"My last one died," Bonnie said, whispering, drawing Mary close to her, her face transforming from a feverish daze to one of grief.

"I beg your pardon?"

"The baby before this," Bonnie said, her eyes half-closed. "I didn't know it was labor I was taken with, you see?"

The ignorance! It was exactly like Jenny. But Jenny's ignorance was something altogether different, a refusal to engage, to exert herself. A lack of curiosity.

Outside, above the street clatter of carriages and vendors came the hard clang of the fire bell, and cries of "On to the South!"

Blevens rushed to the window and threw it open as Mary whispered to Bonnie not to worry. The rising strains of a band joined the bugle, producing a festive, off tune march that beckoned like a piper. A swelling crowd hurried along the turnpike, shoulders and wool hats bent against the rain. In the distance the flat pop of gunfire sounded.

"You there! Hello? Can you give me the news?" Blevens cried.

A man who had stopped to don an oilskin looked up, revealing a slick, battered face, pocked, the doctor was certain, at the ironworks where the spitting metal often scarred workers' faces.

"Haven't you heard?" the man shouted. "The Carolinians fired on Fort Sumter!"

"Has Lincoln called for men?" the doctor asked, but the scarred man melted into the stream of revelers pushing down the muddy turnpike toward the music as if something were reeling them in. James Blevens slammed down the window and turned.

"I cannot believe it," he said. "It is war."

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "My Name Is Mary Sutter"
by .
Copyright © 2011 Robin Oliveira.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

A "skillful debut ..."
-The Daily Beast

" ...riveting saga about trying to break a 19th-century glass ceiling."
-Good Housekeeping

"Oliveira's debut novel is magnificent historical fiction."
-Bookpage

"The language is beautiful and the story will keep you on the edge of your seat throughout ..."
-(Albany) Times Union

" ...compelling voice ... does a splendid job of reminding us how much the known world has changed ... and how much has not."
-(Portland) Oregonian

"Oliveira deftly depicts the chaotic aftermath of battles and develops her own characters while incorporating military and political leaders of the time. The historic details enrich the narrative without overshadowing Mary's struggles. This well-written and compelling debut will engage all readers of historical fiction, especially those interested in the Civil War."
-Library Journal

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My Name Is Mary Sutter 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 249 reviews.
Gertt More than 1 year ago
Mary Sutter is not your typical, strikingly beautiful, heroine, however, she is truly a beautiful person, full of strength and grace that you will admire and love. This is a compelling story of the young men who fought during the Civil War without leadership, food, medicine or proper weapons and the surgeons and nurses who tried, against unsurmountable odds, to help and comfort them. My Name Is Mary Sutter is a beautiful story of love and survival in the richly historical setting of the Civil War. Robin Oliveira's writing style and characters will stay with you long after the story ends. This was her first novel, hopefully she's working on her second.
LauraFabiani More than 1 year ago
Oh. My. Goodness. What an unforgettable book. Author Robin Oliveira has created a heroine unlike any other and a powerful story that captures the despair, horror and agony of one of the bloodiest battles in American history. The year is 1861. Mary Sutter, a remarkable midwife trained by her mother, dreams of becoming a surgeon but is refused entrance to medical schools or to be apprenticed by a doctor. When the Civil War breaks out between the North and South, Mary Sutter leaves the comforts of her home to escape from a recent heartbreak and to help take care of the injured soldiers in Washington and eventually right in the battlefield. What ensues is a riveting tale that pulled at my heartstrings for the loss and despair that the characters lived through. I admired Mary's perseverance and self-sacrifice when faced with heart-wrenching decisions, and I shook my head in stupefied disbelief and sorrow at the carnage and futility the soldiers and surgeons faced on the battlefields. And apart from being severely prejudiced, it was brainless of the institutions to initially keep the women from nursing or doctoring the men. After all, women experience childbirth and are used to the sight of blood. Oliveira's writing is brutally honest and she doesn't spare details of the amputations performed in the crudest environments, but I never felt it was gratuitous or glorified. The scenes were from a medical point of view, and I marvelled at how doctors worked bone-tiring endless hours day and night with limited medical knowledge and few supplies and still saved lives. The imagery was vivid and I was transported to that time in history. I could smell the acrid smoke of the gunfire, feel the misery and hopelessness, see the deplorable hospital conditions and hear the desperate cry of the dying young men. The author weaved historical details beautifully into the story including scenes with President Lincoln and General McClellan. But ultimately, My Name is Mary Sutter is not a book about war, but one about choosing to be the person you think you could be. It's about a young woman who pursued her medical career in the face of great obstacles, proving she was a doctor at heart. It made me appreciate the countless doctors who strive to improve the medical profession and perform amazing feats to save and preserve lives. An excellent read.
saratoga99 More than 1 year ago
For those who thought that Gone with the Wind epitomized a fictional authoritative chronicle before and during the Civil War, in this tumultuous period of our own current history, it is clear that My Name is Mary Sutter, has commendably garnered a pinnacle in what this voracious generation desires to know. In a magnificent debut novel, Robin Oliveria offers an unsurpassed entre into one woman's unrelenting quest to ascend from mere acceptable midwifery to a 19th century avant-garde physician and surgeon. My own personal curiosity developed from the introduction of Albany, New York as Mary's birthplace and pivotal foundation for her initial unremitting quest to Albany Medical College in pursuit of her befitting profession as a female physician and surgeon. Immediately with excitement, the unforgettable locales presented an Albany I knew from early childhood, and the impeccable descriptive narrative tendered Mary Oliveria's impermeable research not only to locales but also to characters imbedded in this superbly written narrative. The haunting depiction of young warriors, whose only knowledge of war was the initial exuberance of proclaiming victory yet to be won, the vivid portrayal of unrelenting suffering in needless battles, the laudable women who sacrificed decorum for indefatigable efforts to save the wounded without adequate medical supplies, and Mary Sutter, unforgettable in her unwavering courage and undoubting determination to risk all. This year is less than six months old, but I venture to say this book will be a valiant tribute to the women who willingly forfeited a conventional life to advance women in the medical profession fully as physicians and surgeons.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A book that caught me in the first chapter. Anyone interested in the history of the Civil War or medicine in early America will love this book. Parts are heartbreaking as the few doctors available then struggle with the lack of hygiene and medicine during the war, parts are incredible in the bravery and selflessness shown by those who tried to save young lives and keep supplies coming through enemy lines. Mary Sutter breaks all the rules in her deep desire to be a surgeon and I rooted for her the entire book. Details of life during that time are well documented and the writer kept the story moving and interesting.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have returned to "Mary Sutter" several times since its publication and have even used it one of the American Literature courses I teach on the university level. While the author does take some liberties with minor historical details (and admits so while discussing her intensive research/bibliography), "Mary Sutter" is a captivating read, crammed full of (often graphic) eye-opening details of the Civil War. While Mary, as a character, can be frustrating (okay, infuriating) in her myopic, obssessive, quests, (to the point I sometimes want to slap her), I can never give up on her or her journey. While there is a love triangle, per se, it's not overly romanticized or trite--this is grown up emotion caught in overwhelming circumstances. A fluid and fascinating combination of history and fiction, I think "Mary Sutter" is a great book, a wonderful read--and FULL of situations that cry out for discussion and analyis. When is Oliveira going to write something else??
gshIA More than 1 year ago
As a lover of the Civil War era, I was intrigued by the premise of the book. I found it interesting and an enjoyable read. It takes a look at a part of the war that is often overlooked by writers due to the nature of the topic, the inadequacies of war time medical practices. I found it quite historically accurate with the descriptions of wartime medicine and the surrounding events and people of the time. It was a good story about the challenges women faced in the 1800's if they tried to break out of their 'wifely' role. The main character faces not only physical challenges, but internal ones as well that make her a strong female character to read.
bookworm56SB More than 1 year ago
This book was so informative of the Civil War events that took place during the time period, but was so personable on a woman's level with the trials and tribulations of a midwife who wanted to pursue a medical occupation during the time. My husband has always been a civil war buff, but as a woman it was a bore. This book brings it all together from another point of view... Can't wait for Ms. Oliveira's next book.
Jonohoh More than 1 year ago
Bravo to Oliveira for so brilliantly illuminating a fascinating but rarely told aspect of the American Civil War-namely the challenges faced by women who had the calling to heal, but faced a masculine tradition-bound war machine. The author presents involved and detailed medical procedures in a masterful yet completely understandable manner! I never once doubted the authority of this writer. I was particularly fascinated by how she is able to frame the tension between human savagery and the crude but idealistic human drive to heal as a major conflict in the book. It's always a delight to find a book that is exciting to read and at the same time educates, filling in the blanks of the traditional accounting of history.
llamamia More than 1 year ago
An unbelievable amount of research has gone into this novel, including some little known details of events that took place during the Civil War. Wonderful character development of Mary Sutter that makes one urge her on in her unrelenting quest to become a physician & surgeon at a time when there were prejudices against women in medicine. There are explicit descriptions of the deplorable sanitary conditions during this period as well as gruesome amputations that were performed on wounded soldiers...not for the faint of heart. But it also has its tender moments. An historical novel at it's best. Highly recommended!
nookinginfl More than 1 year ago
I learned so much about the Civil War and the practice of medicine during that time ~ how far we have come. The book held my attention from first to last ~ a terrific historical, and love, story. I highly recommend it
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Melanie Davis More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this very much. The author had facts interwoven into the story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed the story of Mary Sutter! It was a fast and enjoyable read! It brought the Civil War to life!
wellreadOR More than 1 year ago
Engrossing book from the first page and does not let up. Robin has managed to include all the emotions of life in one satisfying read. Her decriptive writing allows the reader to see and feel the emotion in the story. She has made Mary a strong and determined woman and her other characters are equally well developed. Good selection for reading groups and book clubs. I will not hesitate to read her other works.
sandiek More than 1 year ago
In the early 1860's, Mary Sutter, a young midwife, wants more. Known locally as the most talented midwife, she wants to learn the entire body and become a doctor. She approaches a medical school and is turned away. She then asks a local doctor to teach her and again is denied. 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.
bridget3420 More than 1 year ago
Mary is determined to make her dream a reality, no matter what other people think. For generations the women in her family have served as midwives. Not Mary, she wants to be the first woman to change all that. She wants to be a surgeon. When her aspirations as a surgeon didn't quite pan out, she went for the next best thing and became a nurse. The Civil War is bringing in too many patients and Mary tries her best to tend to every one of them. It's impossible not to be touched by this book. There are moments where I literally just wanted to burst into tears. Whenever you are in the mood for a moving story that will tug at your very soul, pick up this book.
countrylife on LibraryThing 7 months ago
Mary Sutter is a midwife yearning to become a surgeon. Midwifery is in her blood, through a long maternal family line of midwives. Her longing to become a doctor seems to find an opening when the casualties in the American civil war demand nurses in the country's capital. Mary manages to get to DC to answer the call to nurse, hoping to learn surgery. There she is assigned to a very poor hospital, under Dr. Stipp, who, along with the other doctors of that time and place, discover how much they need to learn about anatomy in order to perform the surgeries which this war made necessary. It was one thing to cut skin, another to sever muscles. Would they snap back? Disappear under the flesh? To what would he anchor them afterwards? Oh, curse his medical training! Six months of courses at Yale; not one surgery performed under anyone's auspices. ¿ Any latent skill he possessed was merely guesswork augmented by common sense. What would a cut muscle do?At Manassas ... a continuous, unbroken multitude of men lay on the rocky ground. She could not see the end of them. She had guessed before that there were perhaps five hundred wounded, but now she saw that there were thousands. ¿ Stipp stopped and shut his eyes for a moment, as if he couldn't stand to see the unraveling scene before him. Then he said, ¿We don't have a choice. We'll have to transport the ones we can save first. That's what we'll do. Otherwise, we are all doomed. Afterwards, we'll load the rest.¿ He turned toward Mary, relieved he'd found the answer. ¿I need you to help, Mary. I need you to go down to the depot and sort them.¿¿Sort them?¿¿Organize the wounded into groups.¿It took a moment for what Stipp was saying to her to penetrate, and then its meaning entered her like a knife. ¿You want me to choose?¿¿Listen to me, Mary. You see all those men? Most of them will die. If not here, then back in Washington. On the Peninsula, no one shot in the belly or chest or head survived, not one, no matter how fast we got to them. Do you understand? We have to save the most men. If we let one on the train who will die anyway, it will doom two.¿Through a woman's eyes, we see the brutality of war, the harsh reality of unnecessary deaths because of a necessity for more advanced surgical techniques, the need for advanced medicine. All of the aspects of the story were fascinating, the writing well done, the settings memorable, the characters lived. Mary, especially, as she made choices, had trod the impossible line. Had tried to reconcile need with mercy.This one has become a sentimental favorite. ************ Stars: ...Writing: 4...Story: 4.5...Character: 4.5...Sense of place: 4...Enjoyment factor: 5ARBITRARY OVERALL BOOK RATING: 4.5
zibilee on LibraryThing 7 months ago
Mary Sutter, a young midwife living in 1860¿s Albany, longs to become a surgeon. Though she has requested admittance to every medical school in her area, she has been invariably denied, a situation that frustrates and angers her. Mary is also struggling with the pain and heartache of an unrequited love, which is why she flees her home and practice when the Civil War begins in earnest and the call for nurses is put out. But Mary is not exactly welcomed with open arms into the nursing profession and soon finds herself in an inhospitable and unsanitary hotel that has been transformed into a Union hospital. Before she really knows what is happening to her, Mary begins to get the education that she has desired for so long, but it comes at a very heavy price. When Mary¿s mother sends a message that her skills are urgently needed at home, Mary makes a choice that will have devastating consequences for both herself and all the people she loves. After circumstances force her to briefly give up nursing, Mary, with the help and admiration of her mentor, William Stipp, plunges headfirst back into the maelstrom of war and learns that to truly become fulfilled she must decide on her future and be true to herself and her dreams. Along the pitted path of war and its aftereffects, Mary discovers not only the secrets of surgery but the secrets of her hidden heart. A dual narrative that races between the fate of Mary and her compatriots and the difficult choices that faced Lincoln and his men, My Name is Mary Sutter is a charged and action-laden debut worthy of critical acclaim and praise.Though I have read an awful lot about various wars, I've never really read much about the Civil War. Many of the specifics eluded me, and though I do have a few books on my shelf that deal with this particular war, I have not yet read them. I was really excited to get the chance to read this book, not only for the story of Mary, a woman who wants to break past the gender boundaries of her time, but also to read and learn more about the aspects of the Civil War that I had been so ignorant of. The book did not disappoint in any way, and I found myself completely enthralled with the story it told.In Mary, Oliveira has created a woman of substance and integrity. She is described as more plain than pretty, and it is only as the reader gets to know her that her internal beauty and mettle begin to shine forth. Mary is as headstrong and ambitious as it is possible to be. Though she has mastered the art of midwifery, she finds herself dreaming of and planning for the day she will become a surgeon and does everything in her power to hasten this outcome. Though she sometimes seems to lack the internal component for being loyal and compassionate to her family, she eventually manifests loyalty to an extreme degree that awed me. Mary is not the forgiving sort and those who land on the wrong side of her temper are often forced to live in her chilly regard for long periods of time, but it can also be argued that once you have earned her friendship she is not quick to let you go. I found Mary to be an extremely complex woman and, despite the fact that I never knew what she was going to do next, I really came to admire her. Not only for her persistence and determination but also for her hard work and scruples. Mary Sutter is a woman who trades her softness for competence and ambition, and though at first this puts her at a disadvantage, in the end it is this competence that saves many lives and touches so many people.As I've mentioned before, this book was told in the dual narrative form. One half of the book was given over to the story of Abraham Lincoln's frustrations and difficulties with his Union Army, which was mostly filled with volunteer soldiers who hailed from various towns. In these sections, Lincoln himself graces the pages with his gentle and preoccupied laments over the war. Many of the depictions of war in these sections were frightening. Oliveira makes the reader
picardyrose on LibraryThing 7 months ago
Aside from descriptions of battles and arguments about generals, Mary's story was pretty interesting. Now I know how to amputate a leg.
meacoleman on LibraryThing 7 months ago
FABULOUS book, telling a civil war story from the viewpoint of a woman. Robin Oliveira spares no details in describing the horrors of battle and treating wounded soldiers. She also weaves in thoughts about goals and losses that relate to modern life. And her prose is beautiful.
saratoga99 on LibraryThing 7 months ago
For those who thought that Gone with the Wind epitomized a fictional authoritative chronicle before and during the Civil War, in this tumultuous period of our own current history, it is clear that My Name is Mary Sutter, has commendably garnered a pinnacle in what this voracious generation desires to know.In a magnificent debut novel, Robin Oliveria offers an unsurpassed entre into one woman¿s unrelenting quest to ascend from mere acceptable midwifery to a 19th century avant-garde physician and surgeon. My own personal curiosity developed from the introduction of Albany, New York as Mary¿s birthplace and pivotal foundation for her initial unremitting quest to Albany Medical College in pursuit of her befitting profession as a female physician and surgeon. Immediately with excitement, the unforgettable locales presented an Albany I knew from early childhood, and the impeccable descriptive narrative tendered Mary Oliveria¿s impermeable research not only to locales but also to characters imbedded in this superbly written narrative.The haunting depiction of young warriors, whose only knowledge of war was the initial exuberance of proclaiming victory yet to be won, the vivid portrayal of unrelenting suffering in needless battles, the laudable women who sacrificed decorum for indefatigable efforts to save the wounded without adequate medical supplies, and Mary Sutter, unforgettable in her unwavering courage and undoubting determination to risk all.This year is less than six months old, but I venture to say this book will be a valiant tribute to the women who willingly forfeited a superior life to advance women in the medical profession fully as physicians and surgeons.
milibrarian on LibraryThing 7 months ago
Mary Sutter is an accomplished midwife, but she dreams of becoming a doctor. However, it is 1861, the Civil War is about to begin, the Albany Medical College does not accept women, and no male doctor will even consider teaching her. Yet when Mary's brother, brother-in-law, and a local doctor head to Washington to enlist in the Union Army, Mary is determined to follow in response to Dorthea Dix's call for nurses. Even Dix's refusal because she is too young does not deter her for long. This fine historical novel traces the horrors Mary faces after both Battles of Bull Run and Antietam, and well as the decisions she must make as her mother and sister repeatedly request that she return home. Her determination and stubbornness earn her the love of two doctors as she works in appalling conditions and without modern medical knowledge. Strong characters and an authentically evoked time and place make this a powerful novel.
Soniamarie on LibraryThing 7 months ago
This is a good book, just not great. Mary Sutter is a young lady in a country on the verge of a civil war. She is also an excellent midwife and has the preposterous idea that she can be a surgeon in a world in which women are not even accepted as nurses yet. Mary will not be deterred, however. She goes to hospital after hospital, appeals to surgeon after surgeon. In a way, the war is just what Mary needs, as suddenly her services are needed at the Union Hotel aka Pestilence Palace where many wounded men are discarded awaiting medical care. The war giveth and taketh away. Tho it brings Mary this oppurtunity to establish and improve her medical skills, it also wreaks havoc on her family. Between the losses that are common with warfare and the tense relationship with her twin sister, Jenny, a bundle of guilt is laid at Mary's doorstep. It could possibly turn Mary away from the medical field completely, making all she has been thru for naught. I have two minor issues that prevent this book from being a five star read. A known author promises in a quote that this will is a "gorgeous love story." Um, where is the love story? There are three men at some time or another desiring Mary's affections, but Mary desires nothing but to be surgeon. She is rather "mechanical" and this trait of hers costs her at least one relationship. Never did I detect any strong feelings of love or desire really radiating off the characters involved. Like Mary, the "love" story feels mechanical and often out of place. Lastly, the parts with Lincoln and Hayes. I get that their excerpts are to establish the war history throughout the novel, but at times, I failed to see what their conversations had to do with Mary's story. Those already familiar with Civil War history may find themselves nodding off at these moments. A good read, but I never laughed till my belly hurt nor had a tear run down my cheek. I wasn't "moved." Four stars.
writestuff on LibraryThing 7 months ago
Women in the 1860¿s had few choices when it came to the medical field ¿ they were either nurses (although no formal nursing schools existed in the United States at the outset of the Civil War), or midwives. Physicians (all male) during this time period left the delivery of babies largely to female midwives. When physicians were obligated to intercede, their use of chloroform (anesthesia) necessitated the use of forceps to deliver the babies from their unconscious mothers¿this resulted in many deaths and complications due to bleeding and tearing. Robin Oliveira¿s first novel centers around a young woman who learns the art and skill of delivering babies at a very early age from her mother who is also a midwife.But for Mary Sutter, simply delivering babies is not enough ¿ she desires to be not only a physician, but a surgeon. As the novel opens, tensions are high with Civil War threatening. As Mary¿s brother and future brother-in-law join the ranks of volunteer soldiers, Mary is attracted by a news release that Dorothea Dix is requesting women to sign up as nurses to care for the wounded. Although she does not meet the age requirement of 30 years old (Mary is still in her early twenties), she leaves her home in Albany against her mother¿s wishes and strikes out for Washington City.My Name is Mary Sutter is Mary¿s story ¿ the story of an adventurous, persistent young woman during a tumultuous time in American history. In the pages of her novel, Oliveira captures the chaos, death, and trauma of under supplied hospitals and overwhelmed doctors and nurses¿bringing to life the amazing stamina and courage of those who filled those roles. Physicians during the Civil War were inadequately trained for the trauma and infection which struck down men during battle. At the outset of the war there were only 27 surgeons and no nurses for an army of 13,000 soldiers and 75,000 volunteers. Surgeons learned how to amputate limbs in the field with no formal training.I found myself quickly absorbed in Mary¿s life ¿ the frustration of being turned away from medical school, the horror of the battlefield and field hospitals, and the uncertainty of survival. This is not just a story of one woman¿s courage in the face of war, however, but it is also a love story and a story of familial ties. Mary¿s rivalry with her twin sister Jenny provides an emotional backdrop to the larger story; and Mary also has a surprising impact on two men who grow to love her ¿ William Stipp, a surgeon nearly three decades older than she, and James Blevens, a doctor who realizes that research is the key to uncovering the mysteries of medicine.Oliveira has clearly done her homework, and the historical detail in the novel is impeccable. My Name is Mary Sutter is engrossing, vivid, and powerful. Mary is an inspiring and unforgettable character who symbolizes the many women who were the unsung heroes of the battlefields and hospitals during the Civil War. Oliveira includes many historical figures in her novel including Dorothea Dix, John Hay, President Abraham Lincoln, and Clara Barton (the `Angel of the Battlefield¿) which lends authenticity to Mary¿s story.I was hooked on this novel from page one. Those readers who love historical fiction and strong female characters will love this book. Robin Oliveira succeeds in revealing not only the facts and details of an era, but the motivations and emotions of the men and women who lived it. A compelling blend of politics, medicine and war¿this is a book I can highly recommend.
vernefan on LibraryThing 7 months ago
Robin Oliveira shoots from the historical fiction starting gate like a rocket to the moon with her new debut novel My Name is Mary Sutter. This incredibly well crafted story is impressive and well polished, and should rise to the top of most of the bestseller lists without hesitation. Mary Sutter of Albany New York is in her late twenties, a bit plain and thought to be spinsterish. She is a talented midwife, taught by her mother and grandmother before her. The Sutter women, generations of midwifery, are the best in the land at bringing forth America's babies safely into the world and into their mother's arms. But Mary Sutter, belligerent, headstrong and selfish, wants more. Her dream is to be a surgeon; to know the human body inside and out, to view the world of anatomy like no other has before, to risk ridicule and rebel against social status and the common belief that medicine is men's work. Reminiscent of the television drama Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, the character of Mary Sutter is similarly stubborn, and determined to find her way against her mother's wishes, and the advice from the male surgeons she approaches for apprenticeship. Turned away from medical school, and rejected by two local prominent surgeons, Mary runs away to make her way alone, running headlong into the blood and heat of the American Civil War. Determined to offer nursing services to the wounded, even here she is again rejected due to her age and future aspirations that many feel are impossible to achieve. War rages while the North and the South convene on bloody battlefields. The need for proper hospitals, surgeons and nurses are high, as thousands upon thousands of America's sons are wounded and killed enmass every single day. Mary eventually stumbles into a way to achieve her dream when one of the surgeons that had rejected her, finally allows Mary to assist him in the midst of chaos and carnage neither of them could have ever envisioned possible. Readers will admire Mary's undaunting courage and dedication to caring for the dying as she soon becomes knee deep in the slaughter hearing the pitiful cries of the men who are thirsty and cold, and will feel their own hearts pounding as Mary overcomes fear and doubt as many surrounding her die in her arms. Mary Sutter makes many mistakes. At times I felt I wasn't sure that I even liked her character for at times she was harsh, rude, and self-centered to the point of hurting her own family, and disregarding them in their own time of suffering and great need of her assistance. But as the novel moves along my attitude changed and I found myself arriving at a clearer picture of Mary and of the war story as a whole. This is certainly not a happy story; it is a tale of war. It is gritty, and at times difficult to read. The author does not fluff over or silver line the truth of what this war brought to soldiers who were no more than little boys. But throughout this story of turmoil and terror, there are images of courage, passion, family loyalties, battles of the minds between mothers and daughters, babies born out of love in a time of war, and a heroine so full of strength and determination you can not help but root for her, and her dream to succeed. Profoundly well-written, good story line and well-developed characters, give this gripping and stunning debut five stars. My Name is Mary Sutter is an outstanding achievement for a first book by newcomer Robin Oliveira, and I can't recommend it enough. If you are a member of a book club discussion group, put this high up on your list for it is extremely thought-provoking and a book that will leave you breathless.