The Fever Hut

Fiction - Historical - Event/Era
266 Pages
Reviewed on 03/31/2024
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite

The Fever Hut by Edward McSweegan is a historical novel built around the real events of the U.S. invasion, the subsequent battles against the Spanish in Cuba, and ultimately their occupation of Cuba about the turn of the twentieth century. Duncan Cleary, a young, newly-minted doctor, is sent into the raging battle in southern Cuba that ultimately led to Theodore Roosevelt’s famous ride up San Juan Hill, with his heroic “rough riders.” Distinguishing himself in battle and rescuing numerous soldiers who were wounded, Lieutenant Cleary was recognized for his valor and bravery. What concerned Duncan more than anything about Cuba was that many more soldiers died from typhus, dysentery, malaria, and the biggest scourge of all, yellow fever, than died on the actual battlefields fighting the Spanish. Following the capitulation of the Spanish, Duncan finds himself in Havana where, despite the war being concluded, danger is ever present, especially from yellow fever. When Duncan meets and falls in love with a beautiful Cuban senorita, it is clear to him that his future lies not in his home of Connecticut but in the sweltering heat of the Cuban paradise. The race is on to discover the cause of yellow fever and particularly how it is transmitted to humans. Duncan finds himself caught up in political and military intrigue as many players desire to make their mark on history by solving the scourge of the tropics.

The Fever Hut is a beautifully written account of those few years in Cuba from 1898 onward. Author Edward McSweegan has seamlessly incorporated well-known medical, political, and military figures of the time into a well-woven fictional account of an ordinary U.S. Lieutenant, from a humble background who not only falls in love with a beautiful local but plays a major part in the biggest medical conundrum of the time. I particularly appreciated Duncan’s friendship and support of his black colleague, Doctor William Brown. Doubtless black doctors were indeed a real rarity at this time and the treatment of him and black soldiers in general by some of the military commanders, so soon after the American Civil War, was highlighted in this story. It is ironic, of course, that so many black troops performed with such courage in many of the battles of this war so soon after their emancipation. Many of the senior military officers were, in fact, former Confederate soldiers and were still engaged in the Civil War, if only inside their heads. The wonderfully conservative and loving relationship that slowly developed between Duncan and Maria was a joy to read and helped to soften the harsh realities of the filth, poverty, and terrible consequences of yellow fever that defined Cuba at that time. The author perfectly highlighted the difficulties of cross-departmental rivalries, political ambitions, conspiracies, and lack of respect between military and civilian medical roles within the hierarchy attempting to bring Cuba into the twentieth century. This is a fantastic read that I can highly recommend.