Brendan’s Alternate Tagline for The Black Angels:
If you need something done, find yourself a nurse.
The story of the Black nurses who helped cure tuberculosis.
Fact for Non-History People:
Tuberculosis killed Doc Holliday at age 36.
Fact for History Nerds:
In the first half of the twentieth century, tuberculosis killed 5.6 million people in the U.S. alone.
My Take on The Black Angels:
Tuberculosis is one of those diseases that doesn’t scare us today but used to strike fear in humans for thousands of years. After all, it killed the Bronte sisters, Doc Holliday, and Andrew Jackson. That’s a very wide variety of personalities as examples. It stalked everyone and no one could tell when it would decide to start killing you.
Maria Smilios’ The Black Angels takes a look at the final days of the disease through the eyes of Black nurses in a tuberculosis hospital on Staten Island called Sea View in the early to mid-1900s. The reason why Black nurses stepped into this moment in history is mostly because White nurses wanted nothing to do with TB wards and had other options. Another major part of the narrative is the various doctors working to find a cure for TB.
The book is excellent from beginning to end. I should warn readers that there are a few times where the Black nurses disappear for a chapter or two while discussing the doctors’ journey to the TB cure. Smilios is a very good writer, and these sections are still enjoyable without feeling disjointed. That said, I wanted more time with the nurses.
The time we do get with the nurses is exceptional. I can’t articulate why, but Smilios had me invested from the very beginning in the lives of Edna and Americus specifically. These sisters and their sacrifices set a powerful reminder of what was at stake and how life during these days could change on a dime. I won’t spoil anything but be prepared to have some feelings.
(This book was provided as an advance copy by Netgalley and Penguin Group Putnam.)
Absolutely fantastic. Read it! Buy it here!