THROWBACK THURSDAY: REVIEWING A BOOK FROM MY SHELF
I bought this book when Ballantine Books first released this edition (that’s not my book in the photo, but mine looks the same). I would have to admit that I was first drawn to the book by this magnificent cover (by Larry Schwinger?) and then by the subject matter. I was in my ‘dark’ period in the 80’s – enjoying vampire stories and anything horror related (I was a little ahead of the times, I guess) and so a story about the woman who infect a dozen New Yorkers with Typhoid was probably right up my alley then.
The book is historical fiction (which was also a bit ahead of the times since it’s become increasingly popular). The idea is that the narrator is Howard J. Rageet, a Swiss-born doctor living in New York. He is terminally ill and he is writing out this story for his children (both physicians). Rageet’s grandfather (also a doctor) had a friendly rivalry with George A. Soper – the real-life figure who tracked (Typhoid) Mary Mallon. Rageet uses his ‘journal’ to describe Mary’s life in the United States.
This is a clever, and maybe at times a little confusing, story-telling device. We have the author, J.F. Federspiel, writing about Rageet, who is writing about Soper, who is tracking Typhoid Mary. Who are we now?
The book is short, with very brief chapters, making it a quick read, but it definitely leaves the reader just a little bit uncomfortable with Mallon’s complete denial and lack of concern. Additionally, there are others who recognize, in this fictional account, of Mary’s terrible affliction and actually hire her hoping that a Mongoloid child might catch typhus.
This is definitely a very interesting book. Because I’ve been enjoying some historical fiction lately, and as a lot of history books seem to be taking a fictional sensibility (describing what people are thinking when we don’t really know [yes, I’m looking at you, Bill O’Reilly]) I took this out of storage, dusted it off, and gave it a read. But I don’t really recommend it unless the subject matter is of interest to you.
Looking for a good book? The Ballad of Typhoid Mary by J. F. Federspiel is a fictional recounting of the search for, and discovery of, the person responsible for the typhus epidemic in America. It is a bit dark, but a quick read.
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The Ballad of Typhoid Mary
author: J.F. Federspiel
publisher: Ballantine Books
paperback, 179 pages