Thursday, September 5, 2013

From Cook to Convict

For over a century, American society demonized Mary Mallon. As recently as 2005, she was labeled, "the most dangerous woman in America." An Internet search of Mary Mallon yields thousands of results. Prominent newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times, continue to run articles about her. Yet she is far from a household name, unless you're aware of what a New York City paper dubbed her in 1910 - "Typhoid Mary."

Blending biography and fiction, Mary Beth Keane's compulsively readable novel Fever is the account of Mary who, as a teenager, traveled alone from Ireland to New York City in 1883. Starting life in her new country as a laundress, she quickly harnessed her talent and passion for cooking and worked her way into the kitchens of the New York elite. Her story opens with the simple line, "The day started with sour milk and got worse." and weaves through her complicated journey from cook to convict. Accused of being an asymptomatic carrier of typhoid - infecting her clients through her cooking - she was forcibly quarantined on North Brother Island for close to 30 years (dying on the island in 1938) but maintained her innocence to the end of her life.

Fever is a fascinating study of both Mary and the times, and perfectly captures the personalities, climate and catastrophes of turn-of-the century New York including the General Slocum ferry disaster and Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. During its annual award honoring young writers, the National Book Foundation named Keane one of 5 Under 35 and her tender portrayal of Mary's loves and losses is one of the reasons.

Vicki Ann

No comments:

Post a Comment

What can I post on your wall?
Commenting & Posting Guidelines

Welcome to your library on social media!

Pima County Public Library (PCPL) offers blogs and other social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter for educational, cultural, civic, customer service, and recreational purposes. They provide a limited (or designated) public forum to facilitate the sharing of ideas, opinions, and information about library-related subjects and issues.

By choosing to comment or post on our social media accounts, you agree with the following:

Comments and posts are moderated by library staff, and the library reserves the right to remove any that are unlawful or off topic. Posts containing the following may be deleted:
Copyright violations
Off-topic comments
Commercial material/spam/solicitation
Sexual content, or links to sexual content
Threatening or harassing postings
Libelous or other kinds of personal attacks
Conduct or encouragement of illegal activity
Content that reveals private, personal information without permission
Vulgar language or content
Comments in support of or in opposition to political campaigns or ballot measures
Content that degrades others on the basis of gender, race, class, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability or other classification

P.S. Protect your privacy. Don't post personally identifying information in these public spaces, including details like your library card number, phone number, or medical information, etc.

Young people under age 18, especially, should not post information such as your school, age, phone number, and address.