The Woman with the Cure

Berkley. Feb. 2023. 432p. ISBN 9780593438060. pap. $17. F
Based in fact yet full of feeling, Cullen’s (The Sisters of Summit Avenue) latest novel is an engaging story of an unsung heroine and her role in an important chapter in modern medical history. During the 1940s and 1950s, a polio epidemic caused panic and lockdowns across the United States. Most accounts of the search for a polio cure mention the work of Albert Sabin and Jonas Salk, but there is a real-life hidden figure whose research led to the development of an effective polio vaccine: Dorothy Horstmann, a clinical epidemiologist who found that, contrary to the medical wisdom of the time, polio travels through the blood to the nervous system. Cullen paints a richly layered portrait of this dedicated and determined doctor, set against a background of midcentury postwar America. There are heartbreaking scenes of young polio patients, poignant accounts of the personal cost paid by those engaged in the search for a cure, and clinical descriptions of the disease, the treatments used, and the experiments conducted in the quest for a cure.
VERDICT A powerful blend of biography and imagination with a main character whom readers won’t soon forget.
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