Title: My Name is Mary Sutter
Author: Robin Oliveira
Genre: Historical fiction
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Source: Print copy from my personal library
First line: “Are you Mary Sutter?”
In the middle of the 19th century, it is perfectly acceptable for a woman to be a midwife. It is not acceptable, however, for her to desire more: to understand the human body in its entirety, to treat both men and women, to become a doctor. Mary Sutter is an accomplished midwife when the Civil War gives her the opportunity to pursue her dream of becoming a surgeon. Leaving behind family obligations and a failed romance, Mary heads to Washington, DC, and finds herself in the middle of horror and carnage beyond anything she could have imagined.
I loved this book. I was worried that this might be one of those cases of the hype raising my expectations too high – especially when I loaned my copy to my mom before I had a chance to read it, and she gushed over it as well – but this book met every one of my high expectations for historical fiction. Mary is an extremely well-written character: a woman whose passion and dreams war with her love of family and sense of duty. Her strength in the face of the most horrific circumstances, her longing to simply learn, her matter-of-fact way of filling whatever need she sees – these things all made me love her.
Beyond character, this novel has a sense of place and history. Oliveira clearly did her research, and the detail and care she takes in describing the war and the men and women living through it make this novel truly remarkable. Mary came to life to me as I read, and she brought the people and places she encountered right along with her. I have no doubt that this book will easily make it onto my “best books I read in 2011” list.