My rating: 4 of 5 stars
"My Name is Mary Sutter" is the best novel I've read in some time. A midwife who wants to be a surgeon during the Civil War - what's not to love? If you're an intelligent, educated woman, odds are you'll relate strongly to Mary. And the requisite love triangle turned out to be more nuanced than I would have expected. Life sure isn't easy for Mary - and we wouldn't want to read about it if it were - but Oliveira does a largely skillful job at weaving a compelling narrative.
Now that I'm deep into the editing process of my own novel, the discrete elements of Oliveira's book are very apparent to me. That's not to say that they aren't well integrated into a whole, I can just see what's going on.
On another note, I was really interested by the descriptions of the role that women played in establishing national standards for hygiene and nursing. It's hard to remember a time when we didn't know that washing your hands - with plain old soap, thank you very much - was a sure-fire way to keep people from dying. Eve Curie's simply splendid biography of her astonishing mother recounts the tale of how Marie not only characterized radioactivity and built the first portable x-ray devices, she actually went around to her friends, badgered them out of their cars, modified them to be the first battlefront motorized ambulances, AND drove the cars to the front - herself! - to train nurses to operate the x-rays. Thus saving a gajillion lives. Man, there's a novel there.
"My Name is Mary Sutter" is the first book I've managed to finish in almost a month - and I could barely put it down. Definite recommend, although if you're squeamish, you might not want to read while eating (I finished the novel over lunch).