When I read a novel about a heroic woman, it fills me with pride. Even though it is historical fiction, these things did happen, just a different name or city or country. The Physicians Daughter is a historical fiction written by Martha Conway. Ms. Conway is Cleveland born, now living in San Francisco, where I also lived (on the Bay side) just 12 years ago. Of course, I was a transplant from Columbus and moved to the Bay Area after having lived in California for a couple of decades. I loved this book because it is filled with all the good things you want in a novel. For us history buffs, it takes place post-Civil War. It appears that Ms. Conway has done an incredible amount of research about the details of not just the war but also about being a doctor and many other things that occur in this story.
What I liked most about this book is the character’s revelation, in the last chapter. That her life may have stayed the same had her brother survived the war. That she might not have gone on to accomplish her studies in medicine because this would have been his role and she would not have stood in his way. The character’s enlightenment is what you look for in a good book. That self-awareness that gives the reader a chance to consider their own life as well. I know that even though I suffered some really poor decision making skills in the first few years of my adult life, choosing to stay in California, all those years, turned my life around. It was mocking my values and not the best decision I should have made but, the woman I am today, a psychotherapist and history buff writing these nerdy articles would not have come to light. Instead, I would most likely be in a simple role as a Mid-western woman with several children and a husband. There is nothing wrong with this, just as there would have been nothing wrong if the character in this book had lived this life, should her brother had lived. However, women like us, the character and I, it is no accident that our lives are changed by one brief moment – one risky thought.
I also lost my brother at 16 years old in a car accident. Her loss was a crazy mistake by a backwards doctor fulfilling a political scheme of a military commander who had an axe to grind. Two things arise for me here. One, is the family and how it is uprooted and goes in various directions as a result of a young man’s death. Both of us had life changing directions as a result of this. As you deal with your grief and the years continue, you begin to see – morbidly – it had to happen. It is easy to wonder “What if,” but like the tornado that wipes out a town “it happened,” and there is nothing you can do. Houses can be rebuilt, just like the descendants continue to be born but something new emerges and the past is forgotten. Well, except by those of us who love history and do our best to remember it and describe it for others to enjoy and recall fondly as well. Secondly, political decisions that are made that ruin people’s lives – such as the pandemic. The ignorance, the egos, the stupidity of keeping state run alcohol establishments open and close physical fitness centers. In the book, a boy dies and a really wonderful doctor must give up his career – a great job, reputation and future from working with the military. How many women have walked away from the military due to sexual abuse, harassment, lack of self-confidence, frustration. Things are changing and they always will but those jobs can’t come back, it is just a stroke on a resume. Women giving up their careers because of a man who makes choices, not having the integrity taught by the institution. Life gives us sink or swim moments. Dr. Viktor Frankl teaches us not to blame those who could not swim but to learn from these moments. Grow.
What I always tell my female clients is to read biographies and memoirs and autobiographies of famous women who did what others couldn’t, in a time when they shouldn’t have. This is the most empowering way to self-soothe, to kick yourself in the rear, to smile, to not give up. And, I say, if you don’t like non-fiction, go for the historical fiction which is entertaining and educational at the same time.
Women were doctors and colleges did admit women but not until the 1800’s. This is only about a couple of centuries ago, so in the larger scheme of things; still not that long ago. They were studying medicine before they had the right to vote. Of course, in the indigenous cultures, women were given more latitude long before this.
The Physician’s Daughter is a heart-warming book. It is filled with romance but this is a relationship that really grows into understanding what love really is. It is not your typical love story. Somewhat like the story in Pride and Prejudice. While I was disappointed at times, it wasn’t at the author – great idea – but because I was sad and didn’t know where the story was going. I eventually figured it out, except the details of how their relationship would finally understand each other. Brilliant once again. This book is any woman’s read as it will delight us all. We can all relate to the storyline, in different ways. I want the author to have the success of a movie deal, though I also know it will be ruined by Hollywood, as they generally do. Rarely do they do a book justice. Still, it might be fun to see what faces are chosen. Hopefully new ones, so we can focus on the characters.
Lastly, the story takes place in Massachusetts and Ohio. We can end with the thought that the woman will become a doctor in Cleveland. I know, I had to give something away but you kind of knew that was going to be the ending anyway. It is what takes place along the way, that I haven’t revealed, and this will be more fun to discover on your own. The ending is literally a memory of her brother. “Really look” he says, as they discuss the stars in the sky. The book might be inviting you to really look at your own life and think about the choices you have made. For you young ladies, really think about your dreams and the future you have in front of you. People might try to steer you away from your passions, though if you have a desire to do something, and you are clear that you are the right person to do it, proceed.