Book Review: My Name is Mary Sutter

Book Review: My Name is Mary Sutter

By Robin Oliveira
Viking, 2010
ISBN 978-0670021673
384 pages, hardcover, $26.95

Reviewed by Molly Remer, MSW, CCCE

My Name is Mary Sutter is a new novel about a young Civil War era midwife who longs to be a surgeon, but is denied entry to medical school because she is female. Historical fiction has always been a favorite genre of mine, but historical fiction about a midwife? The best! After some initial chapters involving midwifery and family life, the main character,  Mary Sutter, seeks work first as a nurse in desperately undersupplied and overworked Civil War hospitals and then directly on the battlefield following the soldiers with a cart of medical supplies. Mary is a strong female protagonist and there are some complicated male (doctor) characters as well. A couple of mild love stories serve as sub plots.

Midwifery quickly takes a back seat in the saga as Mary becomes a nurse on the bloody battlefields of the Civil War. However, her work continues to be informed by her midwifery experiences–for example she uses memories of turning malpositioned babies as inspiration for finding the right spot to amputate wounded legs.

Some famous historical figures like President Lincoln, Clara Barton, and Dorothea Dix make appearances in the tale. The slaughter on the (famous) battlefields is tightly wrought and makes you feel as if you’ve “been there.” The reader feels exhausted and battle weary right along with Mary. The novel is a third person narrative throughout, but it almost felt like a first person account—as if the author was writing from personal experience. Be prepared for a variety of personal losses for the main character.

Riveting, well constructed, and tightly paced, My Name is Mary Sutter is a gripping story of one woman’s tenacious will and her drive both to learn and to serve.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book for review purposes.

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