Swallow by Mary Cappello
Foreign Bodies, Their Ingestion, Inspiration, and the Curious Doctor Who Extracted Them

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This is a book about a kind of cabinet of curiosities that is itself its own kind of cabinet of curiosities: beautiful, rare, eccentric, obsessional. One of the most popular attractions in the Mütter Museum, the world-famous medical museum in Philadelphia, is the Chevalier Jackson Foreign Body Collection: a beguiling set of drawers filled with thousands of items that had been swallowed or inhaled (both by accident and deliberately), including a crucifix, hundreds of safety pins, a toy goat, a padlock, and a "Perfect Attendance" pin.

Mary Cappello uses Jackson's collection as a starting point for a lyrical, sympathetic exploration of swallowing—its meanings, its assumptions, its experiences, even its rhetoric. She restores the narratives, lives, and desires of the physician-artist Dr. Chevalier Jackson and his patients who haunt this uncanny collection and uncovers a history of racism and violence, of forced ingestion and "hysteria" (such as the woman who swallowed 26 open safety pins that interlocked in her stomach, along with a 4-meter length of string), of class and poverty that left children to bank their family's last quarters in their mouths (such as the boy whose father broke his arm when he failed to return from the hospital with the quarter he had swallowed). In Swallow, Cappello brings her original sensibility to bear on Jackson's 1938 autobiography as she highlights the achievements of this activist-inventor, probes his traumatic childhood, and brilliantly retells a life story rife with marvelous forms of rescue.

As with Lawrence Weschler's Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonders, in Swallow a collection of objects forms a surprising narrative that journeys deep into the nature of human experience. A literary and psychological exploration, the book seeks to understand rather than gawk at sword swallowers, women who lunched on hardware, and a boy who wasn’t saved because he wasn't believed. Cappello invites us to enter the seat of human appetite, language, aggression, breath, and even knowledge—the human mouth—in an original and creative tour de force.

About Mary Cappello

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Mary Cappello is the author of Awkward (a Los Angeles Times bestseller), Called Back, and Night Bloom. A recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship, the Bechtel Prize for Educating the Imagination, and the Dorothea Lange-Paul Taylor Prize, she teaches at the University of Rhode Island and lives in Providence.
Published December 28, 2010 by New Press, The. 304 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Nature & Wildlife, Professional & Technical, Science & Math. Non-fiction

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Kirkus Reviews

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These digressions are often only tenuously relevant and give rise to numerous seemingly profound statements that ultimately lack meaning—e.g., “To swallow hardware is to swallow the entrails of machinery.” Even when pertinent, Cappello’s asides are less interesting than Jackson, his patients and ...

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The Guardian

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One psychiatric inmate that Cappello describes, who didn't have the good fortune to be Jackson's patient, died on the operating table after giving up "453 nails, 9 bolts, 115 hairpins, 42 screws, assorted buttons, pebbles, and 942 various pieces of metal including earrings, silverware handles, an...

Jun 04 2011 | Read Full Review of Swallow: Foreign Bodies, Thei...

The Wall Street Journal

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Before dying in 1958 at 93, Dr. Chevalier Jackson, a Pittsburgh laryng ologist, plucked from the guts of patients (many of them children) more than 2,000 objects, including wristwatches, crucifixes, nails, Christmas ornaments, birdshot and a pair of toy opera glasses—as well as uncounted pins,...

Feb 19 2011 | Read Full Review of Swallow: Foreign Bodies, Thei...

Review (Barnes & Noble)

Time ripens inside objects…" But she also adds a memoirist's intimacy and a scientist's precision, as she centers her tale around the career of Dr. Chevalier Jackson (1865-1958), eccentric laryngologist who dedicated his life to the medical removal of swallowed or aspirated "foreign bodies"...

Jan 20 2011 | Read Full Review of Swallow: Foreign Bodies, Thei...

Denver Post

Gently working his forceps, Dr. Chevalier Jackson, a pioneer in the field of laryngology, removes a chunk of scar tissue blocking the girl's esophagus.

Feb 23 2011 | Read Full Review of Swallow: Foreign Bodies, Thei...


Combining original research with a sympathetic and evocative sensibility, award-winning author Mary Cappello restores the narratives, lives, and desires of the physician-artist Dr. Chevalier Jackson and his patients that haunt the uncanny collection of items which have been swallowed (both accide...

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Brevity Magazine

With a scholarly voice that is also poetic and humorous, Cappello describes the larynx in one moment and Jackson’s love life in the next, leading readers from a history of sword swallowers and circus acts to a philosophical meditation on how and why we swallow, always wondering with a surprising ...

Sep 17 2012 | Read Full Review of Swallow: Foreign Bodies, Thei...

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