When I am travelling I love to read books that are linked to my trip somehow. Right now I am in nestled the heart of New York and I found myself picking up this novel set during the American Civil War. The epic tale begins in the drawing rooms of the affluent Sutter home in upstate New York. Eldest daughter Mary Sutter is a midwife – an occupation that has been passed down through the Sutter females for generations, but Mary dreams the impossible dream of being a surgeon…
When I read the blurb on the back of the book I couldn’t fathom where a novel about a mid-wife could go in terms of plot… and the simplistic name of the novel “My Name is Mary Sutter” didn’t really resonate with me either. Nonplussed I plucked the book off my shelf essentially because in was set in New York where I was headed – however a chapter in I was enthralled. Mary is a plain and headstrong young woman and her relationship with her mid-wife mother her unnervingly quiet twin-sister and the young good-looking neighbour who are all introduced to us at the dinner table on a stormy night, is absorbing and curious.
Plucked from their genteel family life, the Sutters and the characters around them are plunged into the bloody throes of the Civil War. Mary determined to fulfill her ambition as a surgeon when women were barely allowed to be nurses – takes us with her to several battlefields and through her eyes we witness the chaos, death, and trauma of under supplied hospitals and overwhelmed doctors and nurses… and the amazing stamina and courage of those who filled those roles is bought to life.
This is not just a story of one woman’s courage in the face of war, however, but it is also a love story and a story of familial ties. Mary’s rivalry with her twin sister Jenny provides an emotional backdrop to the larger story; and Mary also has a surprising impact on two men who grow to love her – William Stipp, a surgeon nearly three decades older than she, and James Blevens, a doctor who realizes that research is the key to uncovering the mysteries of medicine.