Thursday, December 5, 2013


Mary Mallon lives in New York City around the end of the 19th century, and early 20th century. She works as a cook for some of the wealthiest families in New York. In 1907, it is discovered that Mary is a healthy carrier of Typhoid fever. She was the first identified person with the capacity to be a healthy carrier of the disease. She was quarantined on North Brother Island where doctors ran tests on her. A judge ordered her release after several years in quarantine, on the condition she would stop cooking for other people. Lacking the ability to earn a significant wage in another position, and taking pride in her ability as a cook she finds herself a job cooking.

I read this for my Historical Fiction course. I was anxiously waiting to get to the portion of class where we read this book. I was not disappointed. It ended up being my favorite book from the class. It was well written, and covered a fascinating person. I had always heard about Typhoid Mary the same way I heard about Mrs. O'Leary and her cow starting the Chicago fire in 1871. Both were always depicted as women that caused horrible things to happen through their own carelessness, or malice depending on the story. Of course, there is much more to these women.

Keane depicts Mary Mallon in a compelling way. I loved the richness of her character. Rather than showing Mary as completely innocent or guilty, we are given all the complicated parts that make up Mary, and her case. We are given questions that are difficult to answer: Did Mary really understand what was happening? Is it okay to imprison someone for something they might do? Perhaps it is easy for us to judge being removed from the situation, but when confronted as a reality in our own lives, I think it is not. It became harder to blame Mary for her actions as the book went on.

Fever held my attention to the very end. I found it to be an engrossing tale, despite knowing how it would end. This book made me remember how little I actually knew about Mary, and that was mostly stereotypes. I can't wait to read more books about Mary Mallon. I highly recommend this book.

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