Wednesday, May 14, 2014
#REVIEW - Typhoid Mary, An Urban Historical by Anthony Bourdain
From the best-selling author of Kitchen Confidential comes this true, thrilling tale of pursuit through the kitchens of New York City at the turn of the century.
By the late nineteenth century, it seemed that New York City had put an end to the outbreaks of typhoid fever that had so frequently decimated the city's population. That is until 1904, when the disease broke out in a household in Oyster Bay, Long Island. Authorities suspected the family cook, Mary Mallon, of being a carrier. But before she could be tested, the woman, soon to be known as Typhoid Mary, had disappeared. Over the course of the next three years, Mary worked at several residences, spreading her pestilence as she went. In 1907, she was traced to a home on Park Avenue, and taken into custody. Institutionalized at Riverside Hospital for three years, she was released only when she promised never to work as a cook again. She promptly disappeared.
For the next five years Mary worked in homes and institutions in and around New York, often under assumed names. In February 1915, a devastating outbreak of typhoid at the Sloane Hospital for Women was traced to her. She was finally apprehended and reinstitutionalized at Riverside Hospital, where she would remain for the rest of her life.
Typhoid Mary is the story of her infamous life. Anthony Bourdain reveals the seedier side of the early 1900s, and writes with his renowned panache about life in the kitchen, uncovering the horrifying conditions that allowed the deadly spread of typhoid over a decade. Typhoid Mary is a true feast for history lovers and Bourdain lovers alike.
5 - Stars
This was a book I picked up about a month or so ago just to read for myself out of curiosity. It was very enlightening. I sure had shock value from this book! It sure makes you NOT want to go out to eat in ANY restaurant or at least a restaurant that did not serve cooked food, for that matter! I think I'll pass, or at least I will for a little while!
I happened to have grandparents who were 'germophones'. They really would lovingly joke around and call me 'Typhoid Mary' if I had a cold or sounded like I had a cold, and the unspoken word from the time I was little was not to go over their house, or anywhere near them if I thought I was sick. Since I knew Mary was a contagious person, and that was a clue my grandparents did not want me to come around them until I was better! I knew it had to do with their worrying I was contagious and they didn't want to catch what I had, but that was about all I knew about Typhoid Mary, which is another reason I wanted to read this book.
This book explains it is the uncooked food that had the Typhoid in it, and not the cooked food, unless the cooked food was handled afterwards by a Typhoid 'carrier', and someone sneezed on it, or touches it with their hands that have bodily fluids on them. (Gross!)
She was not sick one day in her life, but she was a carrier of Typhoid, and every time she was accused of spreading Typhoid, she had a nit-fit! She demanded she did NOT have Typhoid or else she would have been sick herself with it at some point in her life and she was not.
One of the huge dishes Mary made that was verified to have Typhoid in it was her famous peach ice cream everyone loved. Of the people who did come down with Typhoid, they 'did' eat their favorite favorite peach ice cream she did make. Also, there is salad, and potato salad which most of us know the potatoes were cooked, but with potato salad, you need to mix it into a type of sauce with a mayonnaise based sauce which is never reheated from there. (The book did not include the potato dish, but I'm just giving an example of a cooked food that is still not yet finished being made and how it can carry the Typhoid.) It is ANY uncooked food. It is the uncooked foods that were and still are the main culprit of the spread of Typhoid, or ANY contagious disease for that matter.
Typhoid is still around, but today it can be treated with antibiotics, although there are some strains that are antibiotic resistant, as many diseases seem to be today. This is the hesitation of doctors to prescribe antibiotics. Heck, with the side effects of them, I would rather skip them if I can. I have not died, yet! LOL! If needed, though, I would take them, but only in that instance.
This book really opened my eyes! Typhoid can make you very sick or even kill you if people don't do the basics of hygiene, such as washing your hands after using the bathroom, sneezing into a Kleenex or into your elbow, (I love how the Pre-school classes my kids went to taught the children to sneeze into their elbows leaving their hands clean!) or staying home from work when they are sick. Although, how many jobs in the United States allow us sick time to stay home when not feeling well? Not many. My husband gets zero sick days, so he 'does' go to work when ill, and this last cold that went around practically had him in bed, in fact, he probably should have stayed home a few days! NO! He said he felt fine but just sounded bad. Okay, right! Seriously, what other choice do we have? If you don't go to work, you don't get paid. This was the same way back in the days of Mary.
The problem with Mary though was she NEVER washed her hands after going to the bathroom! GROSS! She even looked dirty, her clothing and hair was unkempt, and she smelled! Just to look at her was a little sickening. Taking baths back then was a Saturday night special, IF that! For some reason people did not like water too much, and the only reason I can think of for that would have been the winter months? As for myself, give me my daily shower, thank you!!
Mary was institutionalized several times. Several times she was let out while making the promise that she would NOT return to cooking. Did she return to cooking? YES! Thus, she did spread MORE Typhoid!
It is amazing how many times Mary was taken into custody after another family would break out in Typhoid. One really neat part was a letter Mary wrote. She still, after all that time, did not believe she was a carrier and did not carry Typhoid, although, the last time she escaped and cooked at a residence, the family did break out, the government interceded again, and she knew that time! They did do a LOT of invasive testing. A lot more invasive testing than I would have stood for! Face it, though, most of us if told we were carriers of a disease would accept it, but she would not. She was probably one of the most stubborn women of the times.
Near her age of about forty-nine, she was finally taken to retire to an island by boat and given a house to live in alone. It was only her, until she met a man who turned out to eventually be her husband. This book made no mention as to whether or not he got Typhoid or how long he lived with her there. The house was provided for her to be able to read, crochet, or sew as much or as little as she wanted to.
Yes, this book repeated a few things many times, and yes, even though this 160 page book seemed LONG at times, it did cover a lot. The amount of research this author did was outstanding, though. He had dates, locations, everything you needed to know about Mary in this book. I give him a lot of credit for that! He even visited the places mentioned in the book! He felt he put in so much time researching this book, the least he could do was visit some of the places she worked and lived at. He even took a boat ride to try to see the house she lived in.
I thought this was a pretty good book. As I said, and I'll say it again, it did seem a lot longer than 160 pages! The beginning went fast, but the middle kind of dragged, although I believe the middle dragged because of the research. Bourdain really got into the numbers, what they did with Mary, etc.
I do suggest reading this book if you get a chance. It is extremely informative. If there are parts that are too long, then skip over them if need be. I read the entire book, but I have read some reviews who gave such a low rating which I felt was awful to do given the amount of research the author put into this book alone. We are talking months upon months, no doubt. I was pretty impressed. He does talk about this in the book. He did go to New York to do the research, and as I already stated, he visited some of the places she was at.
Since I cannot stand long enough to cook an entire meal for myself and/or both myself and my husband due to the neurological muscle disease I have, I'm not into watching the TV cooking shows, so I must admit I am not familiar with who this author is! Sorry! Enjoy the book!
*EDIT: Now I know who this author is! He is on the TV show "Parts Unknown" currently, and a few other shows here and there! We happen to enjoy that show a lot. This explains the slowness of the story, some of the repetitiveness, too. It's his cadence, the way he talks, and how he gets into the culture of food and it's story so much that it's so educational. In fact, my husband was also reading this book at the same time which I was which I did not know, and I mentioned how some people rated this book low, or thought it was slow as I did, but it turns out, and I feel my husband is right about this, is he stated he can hear Anthony talking as he is reading this book, talking the way he does on his show. I had to agree with him on that! This book takes after the author very much! Spot-on! Now knowing who this is and how he gets so into the details about food and the culture of it, it does up my rating of the book.
Posted by Laurie Carlson at 8:58 PM