Novel Brings Home Horror of the Civil War
Sometimes a reader is fortunate enough to pick up a book so full of vivid characters, which so thoroughly transports them to another time and place, that when they finally put the book down they have an overwhelming sense of loss.
“My Name Is Mary Sutter” is just such a book. Robin Oliveira’s meticulously researched novel feels authentic from the opening scenes in 1861 Albany, N.Y., to the horrific conditions she encounters during the war years in Washington, D.C.
Area readers will be able to meet Oliveira at The Country Bookshop, in Southern Pines, Thursday, April 28, at 7 p.m. She will read from her book and discuss the long years of research that went into the writing of this marvelous novel, set against the backdrop of the Civil War.
Mary Sutter is an unusual heroine. She eschews the usual things that young women of her era engage in. She is wholly consumed with her desire to become a surgeon in a time when women were barely allowed to become nurses. She is an accomplished midwife, but has her sights set on medical school.
No woman had ever been admitted to the Albany School of Medicine, nor been accepted as an apprentice to a surgeon. After endless letters requesting admission, without the courtesy of even a single reply, and after a particularly bad heartbreak, Mary decides to offer her services to the war effort. But nothing in Mary’s past experience has prepared her for the conditions she encounters in Washington or on the battlefields, where she ends up living in the trenches alongside the soldiers, providing medical care under the most deplorable conditions.
Oliveira’s book is as much about the Civil War as it is about Mary. Readers learn that Lincoln wanted Robert E. Lee to lead the Union troops, but lost him when Virginia seceded, and he went home to command the Confederates.
The book also offers vivid portraits of Dorothea Dix, Gen. George McClellan and John Hay, among others, and captures war-engulfed Washington with its overwhelming filth and stench, its streets awash with body parts, and surgeons totally unprepared and untrained for the work of treating war injuries.
Graphic scenes of agonizing pain and death sweep away any tendency to view the conflict through anything but the most somber, heartbreaking lens. It is difficult to believe we wreaked this kind of horror upon our fellow countrymen and women.
“My Name Is Mary Sutter” is most definitely not just a book for die-hard fans of historical fiction. While superbly researched, the history never overwhelms the story. Mary’s voice is clear and resonant, and the novel never loses its power to capture Mary’s unrelenting determination or the horror of war.
For information, call (910) 692-3211.
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