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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars an unforgettable read,
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.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Midwife Turns Doctor in Civil War,
Mary Sutter is a twenty-ish young woman who is an experienced midwife. She comes from a long line of maternal midwives. Her twin sister was trained for a while too but she was pretty, flighty and not interested in midwifery while Mary, on the hand, was not satisfied with midwifery. She wanted more, she didn't want to nurse, she wanted to be a doctor and was determined to become one, no matter what. Medical schools would not accept her application, she could find no doctor to apprentice her. Then the Civil War happened and she snuck onto a train full of male "nurses" (really any volunteer who would go, mostly drunks) being sent to the front. Thus begins Mary's apprenticeship and journey from charwoman to doctor.
The historical setting is wonderfully done. It is genuine yet the war aspect, meaning the political/tactical aspects of war are kept to a minimum. We're given enough information to know and understand what is going on but not bored to tears with a "war book". Medicine is the focus of this book. For the first part of the book we experience childbirth in the 1860s. The complete use of midwives for this situation unless something horrible goes wrong and then a doctor is called in with his dreadful chloroform and forceps. Mary is known as the best midwife in Albany, even better than her mother, now that she's grown older. Then we see how a doctor (a male) gets his license as a surgeon: a year of apprenticeship with another doctor and then 6 months of courses at a college where he would be lucky if he even got close enough to a body to touch it.
Women of course were not doctors at this time. In fact, only certain kinds of women, would be nurses. No self-respecting girl from a reputable home would become a nurse. When Dorothea Dix put out her first call for nurses wanted during the Civil War she was only allowed by the government once her call described the type of woman wanted as over thirty, hard working, plain looking, wearing black or brown with no jewelry, sober and "can exercise entire self-control".
The history of medicine as it grows through the War is fascinating as they know little of diseases and infections. There is one surgeon who gets laid up by having his hands burnt who is already a proponent of microscopy who goes around collecting samples so he can perhaps learn more from this tragedy. The descriptions of the wounded, the unsanitary conditions in the makeshift hospitals and non-stop amputations is sickening.
Mary is a determined figure who sets out to do what she wants to do. But at what price? She has many decisions to make along the way. What we want to do and feel compelled to do may not always be the right thing to do and Mary often has to look back on her past decisions and wonder. This makes Mary a real, flawed character who though she is an admirable woman of her time fighting for her rights and those of women everywhere is also someone who has to make choices, some right, some wrong, to get where she wanted to go and she ruminates upon this often.
The final component of the story is a love triangle involving three men with Mary at the centre. Plain, tall, certainly not attractive Mary, has three men in love with her. Mary knows she is plain, her mother knows she is plain and each of her suitors definitely mentions she is plain but there is something that attracts them to her, especially her determination and loving nature. Which of the three she ends up with may be a surprise but I was overjoyed.
A fabulous read, compelling, hard to put down. I did find it somewhat of a slow read, not for any bad reason, but simply I had to slow down my natural reading pace to simply take it all in. Riveting!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A powerful novel, and not for the faint of heart,
"If we let one on the train who die will die anyway, it will doom two."
"In all the world, there is not medicine enough to heal what ails the Union army, mopping or no."
"How do you forget coffins? How do you forget to supply tourniquets? How do you forget that people might die?"
Days later, the citizens of Washington would remark that the Potomac had turned the color of rust, but would not make the connection until news of the enormous numbers of casualties came pouring in."
"If they had just washed their hands between patients, then all those deaths could have been prevented."
This is a novel that will move you and anger you. I actually had to put it down a couple of times and take an emotional break with something lighter. You will learn a whole lot more about the removal of limbs than you might ever wish to know and if you are the least bit fainthearted this might not the book for you. One more thing, if you're expecting "a gorgeous love story" as one jacket blurber mentions - you are not going to find it here. Yes there are three men who love Mary but that is not the main focus of this book, nor should it be considered *chick lit*. Like other reviewers, I wasn't that fond of the chapters with Lincoln and his cronies but other than that this is a solid five star read, and would make an excellent book club choice.
5.0 out of 5 stars The cover is lovely and the story is engrossing,
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This review is from: My Name Is Mary Sutter: A Novel (Paperback)This is the best book I've read in years!
I really looked forward to reading it every night because the prose was beautiful, the characters were very likeable and realistic, the settings made me feel I was right there, and I learned so many new details about the Civil War, and mid-wifrey.
I was immersed in the misery of the soldiers and the grimly determined people who were trying to save them.
It was clearly a losing battle (no pun intended!)
Oliveira describes a war department that was a disorganized, bureaucratic nightmare; run by politicians.
Seasoned army commanders who took matters into their own hands were replaced.
The Federal Government was run by ambitious, wealthy men who made very bad decisions about things they knew nothing about.(sound familiar?)
I never knew Union soldiers were deprived of clothing, shoes, food, shelter, transportation and medical supplies.
I'd always assumed the Union Army was highly organized and had lots of money, compared to the Rebels.
Oliveira did her research for years before writing this book, and I'm so thankful for all her hard work and effort that went into her incredible story.
Mary Sutter is a heroine that I could never be; she is constantly butting heads against the male dominated system, even with the women in charge; and sometimes really doubts herself and her abilities. She spends days and weeks drenched in blood and filth without complaint. She's hard but kind; sensitive but tough. She's clumsy, awkward and gangly; a refreshing change from most female characters I'm used to.
If you like to read about history and enjoy a gripping and compelling story while you're at it; this book's for you.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mrs Q: Book Addict,
Publisher: Viking (Penguin)
My Name is Mary Sutter is the story of a young, brilliant, midwife who aspires to become a doctor. Her biggest obstacle, her gender. In 1861, no medical school will accept her, and deem it preposterous that she evens wants to become a surgeon. Mary is told to remain a midwife, and nothing more. Mary Sutter comes from a well-to-do family, she is an accomplished midwife, who outshines her own mother. Her twin sister Jenny, has no regard for midwifing. She is the pretty sister, the wife of the man that Mary admired. Now pregnant, Mary can not be the woman to assist in Jenny's birth. When the civil war breaks out, Mary sees an opportunity. She must leave Albany, New York. Without the approval or knowledge of her mother, she boards a train to Washington. Becoming a surgeon may be out of her league at the moment, but a nurse seems more attainable. Mary is unprepared to for the unspeakable conditions of Washington, she wonders if she has made the proper decision. Washington city at the time was filthy and wealthy people were discouraged from visiting. Mary's ambition is at a great cost to her. She is forced to change her way of life, and live in unutterable conditions. The army is filled with men with no guns, no food and no training. The doctors are surgeons who have never performed an operation. Make-shift hospitals have basic supplies, and supplies are scarce. Mary does everything in her power to learn. Doctor William Stipp agrees takes Mary under his wing.The hospital soon becomes over-crowded with wounded soldiers, and Mary is the only person able to help Dr. Stipp. Mary finally begins to apprentice, Dr. Stiff reluctantly allows her to assist during amputations. Dr. Stipp himself performs his first surgery, with the aid of Mary. In Washington Mary's dream becomes a reality, she mends her broken heart and she paves the road for her future.
I really enjoyed Mary Sutter, I feel in love with her character and I was rooting for her throughout the novel. When Thomas chose her sister Jenny over her, I felt heartbroken for Mary. After all, Jenny is her twin sister, only more beautiful. Mary is an independent courageous, and persuasive character. I loved her spontaneity and her strong-willed mind. Mary Sutter is a remarkable heroin for women. She made the impossible, possible by never giving up. Searching for opportunities, and she never wavered from her goals. Mary's perseverance is admirable. I do admit, as a Canadian I was not very familiar with the civil war but I really did appreciate the history of the book, Robin Oliveira has created a powerful account of the civil war. My Name is Mary Sutter is filled with captivating characters, inspiration and passion. A book that is not to be missed. Yes, there is a little romance in this one and some shocking events that I will not divulge. You'll be heartbroken, disturbed and enthralled.
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My Name Is Mary Sutter: A Novel by Robin Oliveira (Paperback - March 29 2011)
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