A Review of My Name is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira
I must first report that this is only the second American Civil War-era book I’ve read from the perspective of a Union sympathizer. (The first being Little Women.) I found the perspective interesting. Especially since the book only covers up until the Battle of Antietam in detail, the half of the war wherein the South actually stood a chance of seceding. So the concern about our Union was made very real.
The book follows the adventures of a young midwife who wants to become a surgeon, Mary Sutter. The book is well-written, and the pace is fast enough to keep me engaged. There is an element of a love story, but the focus is the Civil War and a woman breaking into a man’s profession. A warning: the book details mid-19th century birth and amputations. This book is not for the squeamish or faint of heart.
Mary’s physical description is basically, attractive “though there was nothing attractive about her. Her features were far too coarse, her hair far too wild and already beginning to silver” (1.) However, at least two men fall for Mary throughout the book. If nothing else, that was refreshing. All too often heroines are either beautiful, or described as “plain” but when further details emerge they seem to paint a picture of loveliness. I personally believe that attraction is less about looks and more about confidence, and Mary is full of that.
I loved how Oliveira describes the battles, and even more, how she describes President Lincoln. He makes several cameos throughout the novel. Lincoln is portrayed as an intelligent, humorous man forced to make some of the most difficult decisions our country has faced. Judging from every other account I’ve read, it is an accurate picture of the 16th president.
It’s probably the Feminist coming out in me, but my favorite part of the book was Mary’s struggle to become a surgeon and prove to men that she was just as capable. The first amputation she aides is a complete accident. The doctor did not even want her in the room, but the man who was supposed to assist ran out of the building scared. *High five women everywhere!*
Basically, this is an excellent book. I’d recommend it to anyone interested in Civil War fiction, accounts of women’s experiences, an older teen considering medicine, or just someone interested in a well-researched historical fiction book.