Stubborn as a mule, that Mary Sutter. A young but accomplished midwife, Mary appreciates what she is able to do, but she wants more — more knowledge and more skill. Mary wants to be a surgeon, and in the time leading up to the Civil War, a female surgeon was unheard of. Laughable. And every possible roadblock is thrown in her way.
The beginning of the war, however, brings the medical situation in the country to a breaking point, and soon Mary’s stubbornness pays off. There is a real price to pay, of course, and Mary has to dig deep to decide how much she is willing to sacrifice to make her deepest wish a reality.
What a fantastic piece of solid historical fiction. I felt absolutely immersed in the squalor of the field hospital, the stress of a war-situation meeting, the home of a wealthy citizen of Albany. Mary’s remarkable determination endears her to nearly as many as it frustrates and her successes felt so liberating to me as a reader. I appreciated how well the battles were set up, as far as historical context, and the scenes at Antietam nearly brought me to tears. Having visited these areas many times myself, the author did a fine job of breathing life and real meaning into this part of the world that I find so beautifully peaceful. It was certainly not beautiful then, and Mary’s experiences and trials, while exceptionally painful, tell the story of the war in a way that goes quickly from the wide view from Lincoln’s desk to the minute detail: the slip of a suture needle, the fingertip to the forehead, the steady hand holding the saw.
Although I will admit that the first amputation scene turned my stomach, I really felt engaged in Mary’s story. Robin Oliveira is a very capable writer, and her way with words made even the horrible sound poetic. While I would’ve liked the romantic storylines to be a tiny bit more fleshed out, they do seem to be just right for Mary, and any more wouldn’t have been her style. Very good book set in a fascinating and crucial time.
Rated: Moderate. Two uses of strong language, six uses of mild language and one scene in which a man masturbates. Birth-room scenes and obviously medical and wartime gore.