June 15, 2021

The Cape Doctor

The Cape Doctor

E.J. Levy

Publication date: June 1, 2021 by Little, Brown & Company

Genre: Historical Fiction

Rating: 3 stars ⭐⭐⭐

Dr. James Miranda Barry was a brilliant nineteenth-century Irish physician who rose to the rank of Inspector General of military hospitals in the British colonies. Barry reformed medicine for women, slaves, and native peoples; performed the first successful Caesarian in Africa; and advocated for the humane and proper treatment of leprosy; but his achievements were overshadowed by the discovery, upon his deathbed, that the doctor was born female and had carried a pregnancy late to term. E. J. Levy’s deeply researched novel brings this captivating, controversial character vividly alive, and sheds new light on Dr. Barry’s momentous, gender-bending career and life.

Beginning in Cork, Ireland, the novel recounts Barry’s transition from daughter into son in order to enter medical school and provide for his mother, but Barry soon embraced his newfound freedom and opportunity. From successful medical student in Edinburgh and London to eligible and quick-tempered physician in Cape Town, where Barry and the Governor were publicly accused of a homosexual affair that scandalized the colonies and nearly cost them their lives, THE CAPE DOCTOR is the story of Barry’s rise from penniless Irish girl to one of the most celebrated and infamous figures of his time, a time that looks — in its technological discoveries, revolutionary fervor, battle over gender identity, race, religious intolerance, and social unrest — remarkably like our own. 

My Thoughts:

This book takes a look at the extraordinary life of Dr. James Miranda Barry. The overall tone of the book is not typical of biographical fiction. The author chose to utilize a more reflexive and contemplative approach to unraveling Dr. Barry’s life. Throughout the story numerous examples were used to identify how society identified with gender and how those notions stipulated what was deemed “acceptable” behavior. Dr. Barry’s contributions to the medical world include performing the first documented successful caesarean section by a European in Africa, introducing plant based treatments for syphilis and gonorrhea, and initiating medical reforms for wounded soldiers through his posting as Inspector General of military hospitals. The book is seemingly well researched. The author chose a remarkable person to explore. Personally, I found the literary style a bit slow and struggled at times to continue.

I received an advance copy of this title via NetGalley.

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