The 2015 All Iowa Reads selection.
Oliveira’s graceful, assured portrayal of a courageous woman shines through in her outstanding debut novel. MarySutter’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 single-minded ambition. Mary runs into prejudicial roadblocks even there but gains acceptance as a charwoman-turned-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.