Thursday, February 21, 2013


Mary Beth Keane paints the portrait of Mary Mallon in an amazing, heart-wrenching story that delivers her life and struggles in a graceful flow of words that will captivate your very soul and open your eyes to another side of this negatively plagued "Typhoid Mary," as she was called.  

Mary Mallon was a brave young woman when she left her home in Ireland to seek a new life in America.  New York was far from what she imagined.  It was filthy with horse manure, trash, and the stench of decay, but she was determined to make something of herself.  She started out as a laundress, but when the house cook became ill, she was given the opportunity to prove her cooking skills.  She did so with such ease because it was her passion to cook.  Mary enjoyed that cooking also furthered her advancement and pay more than the position of laundress ever would.  

From the first bite, she won the palates of many.  However, her reputation of creating wonderful food wasn't the only thing following her from one job to the next.  People around her began to contract typhoid fever; some even met their fate.  To Mary, it was simply an unfortunate coincidence--after all not all became ill, but to Dr. Soper, a "sanitary engineer," it was a medical fascination.  

Dr. Soper was determined to study Mary because she was the first asymptomatic carrier, and she was unknowingly inflicting those who ate her food.  After many failed attempts to talk with Mary and convince her to allow him to remove one of her organs he felt was creating the typhoid bacilli, he resorted to obtaining her by force.  Mary was transported to a hospital, unable to contact her friends or her boyfriend, Alfred Briehof, a German immigrant and alcoholic whom Mary had chosen to live with despite the scrutiny of others.   Still not receiving cooperation from Mary, the Department of Health quarantined her on North Brother Island from 1907-1910.   

During her time in quarantine, she yearned not only for her freedom but to be with Alfred.  Through all the uncomfortable tests and embarrassing samples she was required to give, she continued to plead for her release, stating she was healthy and had harmed no one.  

Her only companion on the island was John Cane who was the groundskeeper.  If not for him, the hope of seeing Alfred again, and the belief her lawyer, O'Neill would get her off the island, she might not have been such a strong woman through the ordeal.  

Upon her release, she learned her time on the island had come with a cost; her two passions were taken from her.  Alfred was hers no more, and she was to swear off cooking for anyone ever again.  She was thrust back into the dirty streets of New York with no money, living in a boardinghouse, and working yet again as a laundress.  Her spirit was nearly broken.

A chain of historical events continued to unfold shortly thereafter: the Triangle Waist Company tragedy; the Titanic; even the less known woes between Mary and Alfred.  Just when life started to seem as if were settling down--Mary and Alfred were living together again and Mary was offered a good paying job as a cook at the Maternity Ward in a hospital--the life of Mary Mallon would come to a sudden halt.  She was cooking again.  People began to get sick.  

In one clean sweep Mary realized she could actually be the cause of the fever, Alfred died of drug abuse, and she was taken again by Dr. Soper to North Brother Island.  She didn't put up a fight this time, not even when she was taken before properly burying Alfred.  

It was at North Brother that Mary served out the remaining twenty-three years of her life.  Though she died in 1938, her legacy of spreading typhoid fever lives on.  Mary Beth Keane's book Fever allows Mary Mallon to live beyond the whispers, judgment, and news headlines.  She looks beyond the fever to the story of a woman and pens her beautifully.

I received this book courtesy of NetGalley, but in no way has my judgment of this book been influenced.  My opinions are that of my own.  


  1. This story sounds like a wonderful read! It also sounds very heartbreaking...

    1. It truly was an amazing read. I was surprised how easily I was sucked in. I felt Mary's turmoil as she walked through her foggy life wondering what fate would bestow upon her. Though I knew the tale that came with the famed "Typhoid Mary," I, myself, kept hoping that it might all have been a mistake. I, too, kept hoping it was just a coincidence, that perhaps she was actually the victim of the heartless medical over-achiever Dr. Soper.

      It isn't a mystery that I love to read, but this particular book was...just WOW! It turned history into a story that was not only informative, but captivating.