We talked about reading yesterday and guess what? We’re talking about it again today! I’m a librarian and I could honestly talk about reading and books all day long but I have a specific task for today and that is to get you excited about our Read With Us winter selection: Fever by Mary Beth Keane.
In the interest of full disclosure I have to tell you that I haven’t started the book in earnest yet. As in, I’m at the 1% mark. But that doesn’t mean I can’t get you all hyped to get started! If you need a refresher on what it’s about and why we chose it you can find that on this blog post. I think this book will appeal to readers of historical fiction, certainly, but also fans of biofiction, those who enjoy stories of Irish immigrants, medical mysteries, and women’s fiction. In other words, the subject matter itself should be interesting.
Certainly the real Mary Mallon is a fascinating historical figure. She never exhibited symptoms of typhoid fever herself yet was eventually identified as the first asymptomatic carrier of the disease in the United States. She is presumed to have infected upwards of 50 people and three of those illnesses resulted in death, although she worked under different names and that number could be higher. Interestingly enough, she was not the most lethal carrier of the germ, that honor goes to Tony Labella, a New Yorker who caused two outbreaks in 1922 that combined for more than 100 cases and five deaths. We know now that germs are spread by poor hygiene and in Mary Mallon’s case it is believed that she passed along typhoid germs by serving ice cream with raw peaches. It was one of her most popular dessert dishes and since it wasn’t cooked the bacteria wasn’t killed in the process.
Mary Mallon was pursued and forced into quarantine on two separate occasions but both times wound up as a domestic worker or food worker again. In the end she spent 26 years in forced isolation on North Brother Island. This was as likely due to public opinion and ridicule as to any real threat of disease since she wouldn’t have spread it if she had stayed out of food service. I can’t help but wonder, and others have speculated on this as well, if Mary Mallon wasn’t pursued and isolated due to the socioeconomic situation at the time. She was female, Irish, difficult, and had no family. Was she justly quarantined or unfairly persecuted?
I’m sure we’ll have so much to discuss in the weeks to come! In the meantime, keep an eye out on Kym’s blog and Bonny’s blog for more posts to get you excited about reading Fever. And also . . . wash your hands!