Book review: My Name Is Mary Sutter

by Robin OliveiraI’m kind of into historical fiction, so when I saw My Name Is Mary Sutter, a novel about nurses in the Civil War, I was intrigued. And it did not disappoint. Robin Oliveira got it right – her research led to spot on details (as read from a non-Civil-War-buff). The characters are well developed, dynamic, with just the right balance of likeability and faults.

The story is intricately woven – a page turner from somewhere around page 60-ish. And while there are many highly unlikely coincidences (no spoilers here), if you can put skepticism behind you the story is engaging and believable. The details are so accurately rendered that at time I forgot I was reading fiction. At times I went on a wikipedia search to figure out what was fact and what was fiction.

As a nurse, I was somewhat torn. The nursey medical details are good. But the premise of the book is that a nurse-midwife isn’t happy with her position and wants more – she wants to be a surgeon. The suggestion (not stated) is that nursing is not a noble enough career. But when I look deeper, the nurses referred to in the book are very different than the LPNs and RNs of today. Those nurses had little to no training. They wouldn’t even be qualified to be CNAs or techs in today’s world. They gave water to the patients, fluffed pillows, mopped floors, called for the doctor when something didn’t seem right. Given that, it makes perfect sense that an intelligent, driven woman would want more.

The inspiration that Mary clings to – the thirst to know more, to understand physiology and pathophysiology, and to help those in need – these are the same things that drive men and women today to pursue nursing as a career. Reading her reactions to situations and her thought processes, I could immediately empathize. I know what it is to desperately crave knowledge of something that others consider superfluous. I also know the frustration of being shooed away by doctors as they disregard what nurses bring to the table.

In short, I loved the book. I recommend it to anyone, but especially to nurses, student nurses, and anyone in the medical community. What the Civil War nurses accomplished was earth-shattering for their time, and they laid the foundation for the profession of nursing to take hold.

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