City of Dreams

Written by Beverly Swerling
Review by Richard Abbott

Lucas Turner, English barber surgeon, and his sister Sally, apothecary, arrive in the New World in 1661 to start a medical practice and are summoned to remove a kidney stone from Peter Stuyvesant. In return for saving the governor’s health, Lucas requests as his “fee” a small shop in town for his practice, and a house in the wilderness of Manhattan where Sally can harvest medicinal herbs. Stuyvesant agrees.

Sally’s skill cultivating poppies for laudanum supplies her brother with a remedy for patient comfort as well as easing the surgeon’s task. Business grows quickly, because unlike other cities founded for religious reasons, this Dutch city has only one goal: making money. Difficulties arise as Lucas falls in love with a butcher’s unhappy wife, Marit, but her cruel husband will “disappear” only if Lucas pays him sixty guilders, which he doesn’t have.

An offer of marriage for Sally from a Dutch doctor who wants her more for her laudanum than herself gives Lucas the money, and with a heavy heart he agrees, knowing now he can marry Marit. Sally is pregnant resulting from an attack by a young Indian savage, and this marriage will also save the Turner reputation. Sally’s child is born, and instead of her black servant taking the half-caste baby to the slave market, seeing his skin is pale, she leaves him on a doorstep, belonging to Lucas and Marit, who raise the foundling as their own.

Thus begins an absorbing family saga following the growth of the Turner medical clan who help change Manhattan change from lush, farmland to a thriving financial and medical center, where a new hospital will be built, called Bellevue.

The author has created a realistic saga rich in period detail, multi-layered intrigue and memorable characters, with the history of medicine and surgical procedure graphically peppered throughout. It is a satisfying and engrossing story, worthy of a sequel.