Adult Historical Fiction (364 pgs.)
Mary Sutter is a brilliant young midwife who dreams of becoming a surgeon. Determined to overcome the prejudices against women in medicine--and eager to run away from recent heartbreak--Mary travels to Washington, D.C., to help tend the legions of Civil War wounded. Under the guidance of two surgeons, who both fall unwittingly in love with her, and resisting her mother's pleas to return home to help with the difficult birth of her twin sister's baby, Mary pursues her medical career against all odds.
This novel happened to catch my eye for two reasons. One, it was about a nurse, which I aspire to be someday. Two, it was about the Civil War, which I thought was very appropriate considering this past April was the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the American Civil War.
I think this is just one of those books you really have to read to understand just how powerful and beautiful this story truly is. I almost can't put it in words, but I'll do my best.
Mary Sutter just might be one of my favorite literary heroines I've read so far. Her spirit is literally unbreakable. The whole world she lives in is a world full of no's for women, and yet, she pursues her passion for nursing, at all costs. She patiently works her way up from the lowest of lows, nothing more than a scullery maid in a hospital, to one day, becoming a practicing doctor, the first graduate of Elizabeth Blackwell's medical college for women. She possesses such a bright, burning flame of passion that nothing can ever extinguish, not even the pure gore and horror of the Civil War. Her catchphrase? "I want to be a surgeon."
The characters in this novel are extremely well written, each with a very personal contribution to the story. Each character has something unique about them from their past, whether it be a shared bereavement or lost loves, that brings them all together in such a special way. It was so easy to become attached to each of the characters, and love them all in a different way.
The prose of this novel was sweeping and vast, encompassing all aspects of the War. We see it from the frontlines, from the hospitals, from the homefront, and even from the White House itself. I applaud Robin Oliveira for going to such a length as to really make the Civil War and its people come back to life again.
As for historical accuracy, it was flawless. Everything was meticulously researched, from the actual battles to the primitive, undeveloped medicine of the Civil War. This novel drags you through the streets of old Washington, D.C. and puts you right next to the surgeons as they perform countless procedures in the hospitals. I also particularly enjoyed the fact that Robin Oliveira included some famous figures of that era, such as Abraham Lincoln and Dorothea Dix, and breathed new live into these often worn-out historical characters.
But most importantly, this is a love story. A subtle, but powerful love that grows to defy the world of the Civil War. It's passionate, but in a different way... a passion to continue living and thriving a midst the overwhelming death that surrounds it.
This novel can only be described one way: epic. It is truly a Civil War epic. This century's Gone With the Wind. A beautiful, powerful story that I am so glad I had the privilege to read.
Book #4 in Historical Fiction Reading Challenge