Summary and book reviews of City of Dreams by Beverly Swerling

City of Dreams

A Novel of Early Manhattan

by Beverly Swerling

City of Dreams
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2001, 591 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2002, 592 pages

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Book Summary

Rich with unforgettable characters and history, intricately plotted and utterly absorbing, City of Dreams is a stirring saga of early Manhattan and the beginnings of medical science told by a master storyteller.

In 1661, Lucas Turner and his sister, Sally, stagger off a small wooden ship after eleven weeks at sea to make a fresh start in the rough and rowdy Dutch settlement of Nieuw Amsterdam.

Lucas, a barber surgeon, and Sally, an apothecary, are both gifted healers and bound to each other by blood and necessity. Yet as their new lives unfold, lust, betrayal, and murder will make them deadly enemies. In their struggle to survive in the New World, both make choices that will burden their descendants -- dedicated physicians and surgeons, pirates and whoremasters -- with a legacy of secrets and retribution. That heritage sets cousin against cousin, physician against surgeon, and ultimately, patriot against Tory.

In a city where slaves are burned alive on Wall Street, where James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams walk The Broad Way arguing America's destiny, and where one of the greatest hospitals in the world is born in former shipwrights' workshops by the East River, the fortunes of the two families are inextricably entwined. Their pride and ambition, their loves and hates, and their willingness to live by their own rules will shape the future of medicine, and the becoming of the dream that is New York.

CONTENTS

BOOK I: THE LITTLE MUSQUASH PATH
June 1661-October 1664

BOOK II: THE SEEING FAR PATH
December 1711-June 1714

BOOK III: THE HIGH HILLS PATH
August 1731-February 1737

BOOK IV: THE SHIVERING CLIFFS PATH
August 1737-November 1737

BOOK V: THE CLAWS TEAR OUT EYES PATH
September 1759-July 1760

BOOK VI: THE PATH OF FLAMES
July 1765-December 1765

BOOK VII: WAR PATH
August 1776-March 1784

EPILOGUE: THE PATH OF DREAMS
June 1798

Chapter I

Eleven weeks in a ship thirty-seven feet long by eleven wide, carrying a crew of nine as well as twenty passengers. Lurching and lunging and tossing on the Atlantic swells, the sails creaking night and day, spread above them like some evil bird of prey. Hovering, waiting for death.

The dung buckets on the open deck were screened only by a scanty calico curtain that blew aside more often than it stayed in place. For Sally Turner the dung buckets were the worst.

She was twenty-three years old -- ...

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Summary
In this sweeping epic of two families, one Dutch, one English, Beverly Swerling chronicles the history of New York, from the time New Amsterdam was a raw and rowdy settlement to the triumph of the Revolution. The novel begins in 1661 when Lucas Turner, a barber-surgeon, and his sister, Sally Turner, an apothecary, arrive in the Dutch settlement of Nieuw Amsterdam to start a new life. City of Dreams follows their lives and those of their descendants -- dedicated physicians and surgeons who will shape the future of medicine and the growing city. Rich in historical and medical detail, City of Dreams is an enthralling tale by a master storyteller, set against the panorama of a young country's struggle for freedom.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

Booklist

The early history of Manhattan is chronicled through six generations of a remarkable clan of surgeons, physicians, and apothecaries.

Kirkus Reviews

Ambitious historical novel of New York City's medical practices from the 1630s to the 1780s, a first novel freighted with so much fact and family melodrama it almost sinks under its own weight. ....But early medicine and city history undeniably make for an interesting read.

Publishers Weekly

... descriptions of early operations with crude instruments are detailed and riveting. The city of New York is a character in its own right, but even it cannot compete with the richly drawn, well-rounded people Swerling creates. This engrossing, generously imagined tale deserves the large audience it should find at a time when the founding fathers reign triumphant in biography.

Reader Reviews

Shirley

City of Dreams
Simply put I loved it! From the start I connected with the characters and that did not wane as the book progressed. At times I struggled with the brutality of humanity but the journey with the main characters kept me reading. I was relieved to find ...   Read More

Nat

Historically very interesting!
I really hate history, truly do, especially the development of Northern America bores me to death, however "city of Dreams" actually got me interested in how everything was a few centuries ago, especially how people's cognition and perception of the ...   Read More

Ralph Ekwall
There are good things about this book. I got into it because I am interested in genealogy and have a number of ancestors who lived in early New Amsterdam. It has a good historical context.

My main complaint is that as soon as I got used to the ...   Read More

frank m
One of the best reads of the year. If you like historical fiction this in a must read.

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