Author: Mary Beth Keane
Publication Date: March 12, 2013
Ratings: 5 stars
Plot Synopsis from Goodreads:
Mary Mallon was a courageous, headstrong Irish immigrant woman who bravely came to America alone, fought hard to climb up from the lowest rung of the domestic service ladder, and discovered in herself an uncanny, and coveted, talent for cooking. Working in the kitchens of the upper class, she left a trail of disease in her wake, until one enterprising and ruthless “medical engineer” proposed the inconceivable notion of the “asymptomatic carrier”—and from then on Mary Mallon was a hunted woman.
I read this title because I’m fascinated with tales of diseases, how they spread, and the human stories behind them. I didn’t really know anything about Mary Mallon going in, other than that she gave a lot of people typhoid and people who come to work with the flu or pinkeye are likely to get called “Typhoid Mary.” But I was hooked by the first few pages and soon was reading this book while brushing my teeth, drying my hair, even while sitting in traffic waiting for a train to pass. The setting and time felt so real to me that this book felt more like non-fiction written in an ultra-engaging style rather than a novel. Clearly Keane did her research because everything about this book felt authentic.
Halfway through the book, I had to look Mary Mallon up on Wikipedia to see what happened to her. What I learned rendered her so unsympathetic to me that I wavered on whether I would finish the book or not. I kept reading because I really just couldn’t stop, and I am glad I did.
Keane is an incredible writer, creating a three dimensional, ultimately sympathetic character in a woman it would be so easy to despise due to her actions. At times I wanted to smack Mary Mallon and other times I felt so much pity for her. What I never expected to do was cry, and I made it all the way to the last page before I did! That last paragraph did me in.
I would recommend “Fever” to anyone who enjoys well-researched historical fiction, books such as “The Hot Zone” (non-fiction, but written in a suspense novel style), or books chronicling the human toll of diseases, such as “And the Band Played On.”
This was one of my three favorite books for the year 2012. Five stars.