In the opening chapter of Robin Oliveira's My Name Is Mary Sutter, the midwife of the title shows up at the door of a doctor struggling with a childbirth. It is the dawn of the Civil War, and Sutter expertly takes over, changing the baby's position in the womb and delivering him without complication.
There has been some confusion, however. The surgeon had summoned her, but Mary was unaware of that. She had come on her own, having been denied an interview at the Albany Medical College, and she had a request of the doctor.
"Miss Sutter," the physician asks after the baby has been safely delivered, "what was it you wanted from me this afternoon?"
Her reply propels Oliveira's debut novel: "I want to become a doctor." And her tenacity - at the doctor's office and at a Sutter family dinner that night - shows that she won't accept "no" for an answer.
The doctor wants to be a field surgeon in the war effort, and Mary presses him during the meat course: "You want to see what can happen to the human body. You want to see inside it. You want to solve its mysteries. Not that you should be ashamed. It is no less than I would wish to do. Given the opportunity."
Without forcing the parallel, there's a lot of Mary Sutter in Robin Oliveira, who will be discussing her 2010 book at three area libraries April 22 and 23 as part of the All Iowa Reads program. And in both Sutter's and Oliveira's stories are important lessons about the power of persistence.