Talented and ambitious, twenty-one year old Mary Sutter is a respected Albany midwife who longs to be a doctor. Refused by the medical college simply for being a woman, Mary presses surgeon Dr. James Blevens for an apprenticeship. Despite calling on Mary's expertise during a difficult delivery, Blevens refuses her, setting in motion a chain of events which will take Mary through the carnage of the Civil War and set the stage for a great romance. Robin Oliveira's debut novel My Name is Mary Sutter is the epic narrative of one woman's personal strength and struggle, a story which encompasses grand history and private grief, the progress of an entire gender and generation, and the tale of one woman's love.
Frustrated by her lack of professional opportunities, Mary rebels, running away to Washington and straight into the heart of the Civil War. Working side by side with Dr. William Stipp, the very man who mentored James Blevens, Mary is soon witness to unimaginable suffering and loss of life. She struggles to keep up with the ever-increasing tide of wounded soldiers arriving at Dr. Stipp's makeshift Union Hotel Hospital, and Oliveira's unflinching depiction of the horrors of the Civil War—both on the battlefield and in the hospitals—is matched by her deep understanding of the contradictions in Mary's complex character. While Mary's stubborn streak and singlemindedness are an asset to her medical aspirations, they also have heartbreaking consequences. Torn between her commitment to her family and her obligations to the soldiers, when Mary's mother begs her to return home to help deliver her sister's baby, Mary makes a decision that she will regret forever. Beneath that steely exterior lies a vulnerable, even occasionally frightened young woman who is nearly overwhelmed by the pain and suffering of war but never doubts her own talents or abandons her ambition.
Filled with true-life Civil War characters such as Dorothea Dix and Abraham Lincoln and built on meticulous research, My Name is Mary Sutter is a rich tapestry of historical fact and compelling fiction in which Oliveira effortlessly melds the voices of the past with those of her characters. Her prose is gripping, intense and lively, and she controls her sprawling storyline with expert precision, and at the center of it all is the unforgettable Mary Sutter—an inspiration to those who struggle against the obstacles others have set for them, who break down barriers of prejudice, and who, after waiting for so long, find a fulfilling and passionate life.