Tuesday, January 26, 2010

"D" is for...


City of Dreams by Beverly Swerling (response to Historical Tapestry's Alphabet Challenge)


This is a re-read for me--I'd picked up the hefty tome years ago in a sale bin, drawn in by the lovely cover. What made me buy it, though, was a bit of subject matter intrinsic to the plot--eighteenth century medicine. It's time I confess that, in my reenacting persona, I'm the daughter of a regimental surgeon, so the facets of eighteenth-century medicine have fascinated me since I was a young girl. (And I can walk you through an amputation in a jiffy, with time to trepan a pumpkin if we're doing well on time...but that's another post for another day.)


Basic overview--sister and brother try their fortunes in New Amsterdam, and the cruel twists of fate loom large in the plotline. I liked the opening concept and that the primary relationship--brother and sister rather than parental or romantic relationship--is, in my reading experience, less explored.


One of the most intriguing aspects of the novel is the constant pushing and shoving between the surgeons, physicians, and herbalists. In my limited view of military medicine, we don't differentiate--the regiment has one surgeon who can hopefully serve the needs of the troops in surgery, physicking, and even dentistry. Civilian life, however, is allowed its specialization. Watching this play out was very interesting, and I couldn't help but think of modern medical tussles between elite and fringe branches of patient care. Thought-provoking stuff.


Many reviewers of this book noted the extreme brutality of the surgical procedures described in the book. Fair warning, things can get a bit graphic, to the point that you might feel like telling the author "Yes, I get it--it was ghastly going to the doctor. Enough!." I didn't find this, myself, but then again, I was displaying capital knives and fleems to fascinated (read: disturbed) tourists at reenactments by the time I was thirteen.


The only downside, to me, was the scope, a facet that for many readers was probably a boon. The sheer years covered in the book actually had me disengaging a bit. Still, a worthwhile read and an interesting angle on early America. Plus, gauranteed you'll get a little excited when you stumble upon "the broad way" or "wall street."


By the way--I'm still giving away a couple of very gently used books from previous Alphabet reviews. Just leave me a comment in the Clean Shelf Giveaway post and I'll enter you to win a freebie

9 comments:

Arabella said...

18th C medicine is always fascinating to me, as is medicine in general. Thanks for the post.

Muse in the Fog said...

I love it when you can re-read books :)

Stephanie said...

This sounds fascinating, even with the painfully graphic parts. :-) Thanks for this great review!

Rowenna said...

Definitely fascinating and re-readable--thanks for stopping by!

Anyone have recs for nonfiction or other HF novels dealing with medicine in the eighteenth century/thereabouts? For nonfiction, I adored A Midwife's Tale by Laurel Ulrich!

Marg said...

I really liked this novel when I read it a while ago. I liked City of Glory too, but wasn't as keen on Shadowbrook! Still haven't read the latest one though.

The length of time covered in this novel was one of the things that I commented on in my review of this book

Kathleen said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog today! Have you read Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series? It's time travel with a female nurse/physician traveling back to the 1700s, so you see 20th century medicine meeting 18th century. Those books don't hold back on the details either.

Carrie C said...

It sounds like this was the perfect book for you to review! I like the context your experience added. Thanks!

Rowenna said...

Marg--thanks for sharing your review! I liked the character Jennet, as well (and I really like her name...)

Kathleen--I have yet to get into Outlander! Seems everyone I know has read and loved them, though--they seem like something I'll need to invest the time to dive into soon!

Carrie--thanks! It is kind of crazy how experience can color how we read :)

Sarah said...

Nice to see a review of this one! I've read two of the author's later books (because I was sent them to review) but not yet City of Dreams... it sounds like I need to pick it up. There aren't very many novels set in New Amsterdam.