Thursday, February 10, 2011
Title: City of Dreams: A Novel of Nieuw Amsterdam and Early Manhattan
Author: Beverly Swerling
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Pages: 592 pages
Rating: 3.5 Crowns
In 1661, Sally and Lucas Turner sail to America to start a new life. Lucas, a barber surgeon who was run out of England because of his strange ideas about practicing his trade and Sally- a talented apothecary, arrive in the settlement of Nieuw Amsterdam. There they set up a prosperous business with the help of Governor Stuyvesant who Lucas treated on arrival. When the Dutch settlement is attacked by Indians Sally is assaulted and winds up pregnant. Lucas, who has fallen in love with a butcher’s wife sells Sally into marriage to the local physician after he discovers she is pregnant and threatens to reveal her secret. Sally believes Lucas sold her to make a life with his love and a long lasting feud begins. So begins the story of the Turners and Devrey’s, the two families of physicians, surgeons, and apothecaries that the book follows for six generations.
Nieuw Amsterdam has now become New York and the feud rages on due to the perceived wrongs between Sally and Lucas. Sally’s daughter Bess refuses to associate with the Turners until she develops a cancer of the breast and implores Nicholas Turner (son of Lucas) to attempt to remove it, an effort which is unsuccessful. Tamsyn, Bess’ daughter maintains that Nicholas Turner killed her mother which brings the feud to the next generation. One generation later it looks like the fighting may be at an end when Nicholas’ granddaughter Jennet falls in love with Caleb Devrey but a shocking secret prevents them from marrying. Jennet marries rich Jew Solomon DaSilva in order to follow her dreams, a man who made his fortune selling weapons to the Indian tribes and running the most infamous bordellos in New York. When tragedy befalls Solomon, Jennet must use her own wiles to keep their fortune intact and protect her son Morgan. The Turners and Devrey’s are divided further when the Revolution breaks out and the family is divided in loyalties-some to the Patriots and others to the Crown of England.
This book gives a rich history of the beginnings of New York as told with the stories of these two families in the medical profession. The history of the medical profession itself was fascinating with the differences in medical philosophy and social perceptions of physicians, surgeons, and apothecaries. Physicians were the more respected in the medical profession but had the more primitive methods of treatment while surgeons were looked down upon but whose ideas were responsible for several advances in the field. In City of Dreams, the surgeons obsess over the ideas of blood transfusion and inoculation while physicians insist cupping and bleeding are the cure all. At times the descriptions of different procedures were quite gory but they were also very realistic. The historical details of the beginnings of New York from small Dutch settlement to booming city were spot on. I enjoyed the picture Swerling painted of the cultural differences, the political climate, and the colorful characters she used to advance the story-a true window into the time.
The only negative experience in reading this book was the way the story jumped in time from one generation to the next. City of Dreams is divided into eight sections. Swerling would tell the story of one set of characters and would jump ahead in the next installment as much as 50 years without there being much of a transition of any kind. It made for a jarring reading experience and I found myself having to turn back to the start of each section to remind myself which time period and I was reading about now. The graphic medical procedures and abundant sex scenes may not be for everyone but if you enjoy reads about early American life or the medical profession at all this may be something you want to pick up.
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Royal Reviewer Angela Renee at 11:32 AM