Lora O. (Antioch, CA)
Rough Beginnings of the American Public Health System
I have a bookshelf of books on various diseases, both non-fiction and fiction and I understand the causes of typhoid, but I never thought of what it might feel like to be a healthy carrier of such a deadly disease until I read Mary Beth Keane's chilling and moving novel about Mary Mallon, aka "Typhoid Mary". I felt I could relate to this amazing, scrappy, intelligent, hard working woman, who fought to develop a career and rise above poverty by becoming a talented and innovative cook for wealthy families. The author so achingly described the shunning and ostracism of Mary and how bewildered she was, knowing she was a good, moral, talented and healthy woman who couldn't imagine she could be the cause of death of those around her.
The author's vivid description of early 1900 streets of New York were amazing. The portrayal of medical science at the turn of that century, fumbling it's way to an understanding of the cause of disease and the beginning of the public health system was well researched and well drawn. But as the men around Mary were so dismissive and arrogant and unable or uninterested in helping Mary to understand the transmission of typhoid, I think the author also did a poor job of explaining typhoid's history and transmission.
Apart and separate from the typhoid, I think this book stands as on of the best books about Irish immigrants that I have ever read. The characters were wonderful and believable and Mary's story was truly heartbreaking.
I want to recommend this book to my book club and think there are interesting medical issues that would make for a delightful discussion.
Liz C. (Kalamazoo, MI)
Mary Beth Keane has created an intriguing, empathetic portrait of "Typhoid Mary" in Fever. Mary Mallon is a hard working, independent, talented and sympathetic character. I also found the story of Mary's fictional (?) and troubled lover, Alfred, and their relationship captivating. Keane brings the neighborhoods and people of early twentieth century New York alive in this novel. If you enjoy good writing, historical fiction and strong women characters I highly recommend Fever.
Lynne G. (rockville, MD)
Fever by Mary Beth Keane
Fever is a remarkable book. The author's characters are so real that they remain with you after you have put down the book. Moreover, you wonder what they are doing while you are away from them. She has conjured up long gone people and brought them back to life. Her writing is beautiful and she has great empathy for her characters. Although it is a difficult read because of the many hardships they face, you will gain perspective on lives of immigrants, appreciation for how far medical science has come and you will feel very grateful to your ancestors who made the trip to America under very difficult circumstances. I highly recommend this book and author.
Mary M. (Lexington, KY)
Typhoid Mary's Story
"Fever" is a fascinating fictional account of the woman known as Typhoid Mary. The story is told from Mary's point of view and you get a real sense of who she was and how being labeled a typhoid carrier affected her. Ms. Keane does a wonderful job of humanizing Mary. The descriptions of early New York and the people who lived there bring the story to life. Mary's actions can be interpreted many ways making this an excellent book for book clubs. I really enjoyed this book.
Debi B. (Charleston, SC)
Fever ~ Mary Beth Keane
Fever is the story of Mary Mallon: Typhoid Mary, the Germ Woman. She was a head-strong Irish immigrant who wanted to succeed in America as a domestic cook. She was a carrier of typhoid fever, which she didn't seem to acknowledge or want to admit to the deadly consequences of being a carrier of the disease. At times I found myself angry at Mary, but mostly, I felt sorry for her.
I really liked this book and found it hard to put down. Mary Beth Keane writes in such a way it was like watching her movie, rather than reading her book. I didn't want it to end.
Tilli F. (Florence, MA)
Fever - a book for those who like history
This is a fine book. I accepted it because I knew nothing about Typhoid Mary except her name, and wondered why her memory had lasted so long. And now I know. Mary Mallon endured a tough life and survived despite it. But beyond that, this book gives a vivid and informative portrayal about that period in our history. For instance did you know that there was a small island in New York Harbor called North Brother to which they sent all TB victims? That's where Mary was sent for years.
Her "husband" Alfred is also vibrantly portrayed. An alcoholic with nowhere near Mary's strength of character, he loved her and stayed with her for the most part, and seemed mostly bewildered by her. She did not seem to love him but was loyal and dependent which was unusual to the rest of her nature.The author does not seem to fault Mary for the sickness and death she caused, but instead blames Mary's ignorance. She could not understand how she could cause illness when she was herself well, and the notion of 'carrier' was not well understood at the time. All in all a well-written and gripping narrative which brings to life a little-known period of our history.
Kathleen S. (St Louis, MO)
Fever: A Love Story
This novel is based upon the life of Mary Mallon, known to history as Typhoid Mary. I titled this review a love story as it's the story of a 2-fold love; Mary's love of cooking and her love of ne'er-do-well Alfred, her long-time companion.
Mary used her talents as a cook to raise herself up on the domestic service ladder even after she was discovered to be an "asymptomatic carrier" of typhoid. Since cooks were more highly regarded and better paid than other domestics, she time and again went back to the craft even after she was put into isolation in 1907 and banned from cooking for others.
Mary could not keep away from her lover Alfred anymore than she could keep away from cooking. Their relationship continued on even thru Alfred's betrayal.
"Fever" gives us strong descriptions of early 20th century life in New York, especially for the lower classes who were forced to toil in upper class homes or in sweat shops for subsistence wages.
This fictionalized account of Mary depicts her as a strong immigrant woman who battled for a better life for herself. This book would be suitable for book clubs or those who enjoy reading about early 20th century life in New York.