Her Name was Mary Sutter...

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

and sadly, I didn't really care.  My Name is Mary Sutter, by Robin Oliveira, details the story of Mary Sutter, a wealthy midwife living in Albany, New York at the outbreak of the Civil War.  Her one dream is to become a surgeon, but she has been turned down by every medical school and doctor in Albany.  When the war starts, she sees her chance to get into the field of medicine by becoming part of Dorothea Dix's nurses corps.  She travels to Washington, DC and bullies herself into a position at the Union Hotel Hospital.  And then there's some family tragedy, and some arguments with the head doctor, and some gruesome descriptions of injuries and disease...and then I gave up.

Everything about this book makes it something I should enjoy.  The genre, the theme, the feminist message-all things that resonate with me as a reader and a woman.  However, I found myself unable to work up much caring about the characters or what was happening to them.  The story was slow moving, the characters all annoyed me at some point or another-and not in a good, "ooo, I love to hate them" sort of way-and the descriptions of the barbaric state of medicine during that time were more disgusting than instructive.  Ordinarily I enjoy reading about the political machinations that lead to major world events, but even the political insights into the disorganization and incompetence that resulted in a greater human toll than necessary couldn't keep me going.  I will admit I stopped about 220 pages in-even though that was 2/3 of the way through,  I have too many other things to read to spend any more time on a book that was clearly not doing anything for me, intellectually, spiritually, or from an entertainment stand-point.  I assume since this book was nominated for the Orange Prize** that other people must have enjoyed it more than me, so give it a try if it sounds good to you.  You can tell me how it ended.

**Apparently, it did not in fact get nominated for the Orange Prize-as Ms. Oliveira herself was kind enough to point out in a comment below.  Darn TBR piles and their lack of appropriate organization!


  1. Wow, I had no idea the book was nominated for the Orange Prize! And I'm the author!

  2. Well, darn...and here I thought I had my to-be-read books so well organized. It was in my pile of books I bought because they were Orange Prize nominees. Sorry about that-correction coming now...

  3. However, it did win The Michael Shaara Prize for Excellence in Civil War Fiction, the James Jones First Novel Fellowship, and Honorable Mention for the Langum Prize for American Historical Fiction.

  4. Good for you to post a review on a book that you didn't finish! I do that even though there are lots of people that think one shouldn't (or *they* shouldn't). My reviews are about my reading experience more than about the book, same for you, it seems.

    I agree that this books has all the elements to make a great read, and I think I'll just have to try it and see for myself. I like books about strong women!


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