Mary Sutter is twenty years old when the Civil War breaks out, and for her this is the perfect opportunity to take her trade as a midwife and turn it into a career as a doctor. When the nursing corps turns her down because of her age (she’s too young), she finds herself meeting with President Lincoln and, upon his recommendation, working in the Union Hotel Hospital as assistant to chief surgeon William Stipp. Her new job is fraught with issues – there’s never enough time to care for everyone, so many soldiers die despite her best efforts, and she runs for days and days on no sleep and little nourishment. In addition, her family can’t understand her calling, and her mother especially just wants her home safe. This is a story about one woman’s certainty of who she really is and what she was put on this earth to do, and her determination to become a doctor in an era where this was unheard of for a woman.
My Name is Mary Sutter is a fascinating look at one aspect of our country’s history: the development of the medical field, born out of necessity because of the Civil War. I did a little research after reading this book and found out that Mary Sutter herself isn’t a real person, rather a compilation of the seventeen women who became doctors after the Civil War, based upon their experiences nursing the soldiers. I have to say, though, that Mary Sutter could have easily been a real person, based on how authentic and honest her story was in Robin Oliveira’s hands. She is an absolutely wonderful character and it was her character that propelled this book for me and made me continue to turn the pages late into the night.
I really, really connected with Mary Sutter. She was such a full character, and someone who I could truly admire. She was stuck on the idea of becoming a doctor, with no regard for the many obstacles that were thrown in her way, and she never once gave up on what she knew in her heart she was called to do. She was a very real person, too, and had much difficulty leaving her family in order to pursue her dreams, especially when tragedy strikes. She also put off falling in love, and doing all the other things that a woman of that time period was expected to do, in order to follow this calling. Her emotions were raw and truthful, her character flawed but so very realistic. Honestly, I just loved her. I admired her so much and would be happy to read another book about her. :)
This book is an excellent example of great historical fiction. The reader is treated to a snapshot of the Civil War, to an understanding of what it might have been like to live in that time period, both as a part of the war and separate from it. The book is sprinkled with historical figures – we even get a chance to get inside Abraham Lincoln’s head and are treated to what he might have been thinking and feeling through different parts of the war!
My Name is Mary Sutter is a gem of a novel that fans of historical fiction should not miss. It is a tale of one woman’s quest to fulfill her destiny, whatever the cost, and of a country’s development in a time of crisis. This book begs to be read, so please do me a favor and read it!