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Southern Pines Pilot – April 26, 2011
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....
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
Journal of American Medical Association - October 12, 2010
"...Oliveira's scrupulously factually researched canvass allows its
readers to witness through human experience the agonizingly complex
relationship of disease, mutilation, death, and healing in war."
Atlanta Journal Constitution - August 8, 2010
Historical tale among best.
"At the center of Robin Oliveira's enthralling and well-researched
debut novel is an ambitious young woman who refuses to accept the
limited roles women played in the field of medicine during the
mid-19th century. ...In her hometown of Albany, NY, 21-year-old Mary
Sutter is a midwife of unsurpassed skill, so well-known that women
ask for her by name. But for headstrong young Mary--whose
bookshelves includes "Gray's Anatomy," Florence Nightingale's "Notes
on Nursing" and "The Process of Parturition"--what she's already
good at isn't enough. She dreams of becoming a surgeon, something
virtually unheard of in April 1861. So, despite being coldly
rejected by the local medical college and turned down by a doctor as
an apprentice, she keeps knocking on doors in hopes of finding her
Oprah (O) Magazine - June 15, 2010
The title of Robin Oliveira's debut historical novel, My Name Is
Mary Sutter, perfectly evokes its eponymous heroine's style: clear,
determined, and, unlike most women of the Civil War era,
unapologetically direct. Expected, at most, to follow her mother
into local midwifery, Mary has the nerve to want to be a "real"
doctor. ("No woman is a surgeon," chides even her admiring twin
sister, Jenny.) When Mary's beloved, Thomas, devastates her by
choosing the more conventional Jenny as his wife, Mary sets out for
Washington, D.C.; perhaps there she can heal herself as well as
those wounded in war. Her heartbreak may have given her compassion
equal to her excellent medical skills—both of which endear her to
two male surgeons along the way—but Mary (who's nothing if not
plucky) struggles mightily to achieve her dream. When news of her
good works in a D.C. hospital finally wins her a meeting with
President Lincoln, he declares: "I have more faith in that young
woman than I do in most of my generals." We, of course, felt that
way about Mary all along.
-- Sara Nelson
Historical Novels Review – Editors’ Choice – May 1, 2010
"... The relationships between Mary and her family members, her
mentor, and others she meets are exceptionally well done. This
unforgettable novel of the American Civil War should become a
classic. I highly recommend My Name Is Mary Sutter to readers who
wish to gain a better understanding of the war and its effects on
those who lived through it."
-- Jeff Westerhoff
Booklist - April 15, 2010
Oliveira’s graceful, assured portrayal of a courageous woman shines
through in her outstanding debut novel. Mary Sutter’s expert
midwifery skills are renowned throughout Albany, New York, in 1861,
yet she yearns for more. After local physicians refuse to formally
train her in medicine, and her hoped-for husband chooses her twin
sister instead, she heads south to Washington, D.C., bringing only a
valise and her singleminded ambition. Mary runs into prejudicial
roadblocks even there but gains acceptance as a charwomanturned-nurse
at the Union Hotel hospital. While caring for wounded,
disease-ridden soldiers under appalling conditions, she persistently
ignores family pressures to return home. The viewpoint shifts
between Mary, her family members, two doctors who come to love her,
and real-life figures like Lincoln and Dorothea Dix, ensuring an
intimate yet wide-ranging portrait of the chaos, ineptitude, and
heartbreak of wartime. Oliveira has a firm grasp on the finer
details of the era and lets readers form their own judgments about
the painful decisions made by her appealingly vulnerable characters.
This impressive historical epic deserves a large readership.
-- Sarah Johnson
Publishers Weekly – February 15, 2010
The Civil War offers a 20-year-old midwife who dreams of becoming a
doctor the medical experience she craves, plus hard work and
heartbreak, in this rich debut that takes readers from a small
upstate New York doctor's office to a Union hospital overflowing
with the wounded and dying. Though she's too young for the nursing
corps, Mary Sutter goes to Washington, anyway, and, after a chance
meeting with a presidential secretary, is led to the Union Hotel
Hospital, where she assists chief surgeon William Stipp and becomes
so integral to Stipp's work she ignores her mother's pleas to return
home to deliver her sister's baby. From a variety of
perspectives—Mary, Stipp, their families, and social, political, and
military leaders—the novel offers readers a picture of a time of
medical hardship, crisis, and opportunity. Oliveira depicts the
amputation of a leg, the delivery of a baby, and soldierly life;
these are among the fine details that set this novel above the
gauzier variety of Civil War fiction. The focus on often horrific
medicine and the women who practiced it against all odds makes for
compelling reading. (May)