From the acclaimed author of "Schindler s List" comes the epic, unforgettable story of two sisters whose lives are transformed by the cataclysm of the First World War. Read more...
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From the acclaimed author of "Schindler s List" comes the epic, unforgettable story of two sisters whose lives are transformed by the cataclysm of the First World War.
IN 1915, Naomi and Sally Durance, two spirited Australian sisters, join the war effort as nurses, escaping the confines of their father s farm and carrying a guilty secret with them. Though they are used to tending the sick, nothing could have prepared them for what they confront, first on a hospital ship near Gallipoli, then on the Western Front.
Yet amid the carnage, the sisters become the friends they never were at home and find themselves courageous in the face of extreme danger and also the hostility from some on their own side. There is great bravery, humor, and compassion, too, and the inspiring example of the remarkable women they serve alongside. In France, where Naomi nurses in a hospital set up by the eccentric Lady Tarlton while Sally works in a casualty clearing station, each meets an exceptional man: the kind of men for whom they might give up some of their newfound independence if only they all survive.
At once vast in scope and extraordinarily intimate, "The Daughters of Mars" brings World War I vividly to life from an uncommon perspective. Thomas Keneally has written a remarkable novel about suffering and transcendence, despair and triumph, and the simple acts of decency that make us human even in a world gone mad."
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-07-01
- Reviewer: Staff
The horrific butcher’s bill of WWI trench fighting, which took a toll not only on the wounded soldiers but on the doctors and nurses who tended to them, is at the heart of this moving epic novel from the author of Schindler’s List. The story is told through the experiences of two sisters, Sally and Naomi Durance, both nurses, who enter the morally complex area of treating the devastatingly injured with peacetime experience. Eight months before the call went out from the Australian government for military nurses, Naomi apparently used some extra morphine that Sally had procured to end their mother’s suffering from inoperable cervical cancer. The euthanasia both drew the siblings together in a conspiracy of silence and created a barrier between them. Their duties take them to Egypt and Europe, as they struggle to stay alive, and to stay mentally composed despite the awful situations they must confront. By again using individuals to humanize a larger story, Keneally succeeds in conveying the experience to his readers in a manageable way. Agent: Amanda Urban, ICM. (Aug. 10)
Sisters find truth and horror in the Great War
If Thomas Keneally’s expansive and brilliant novel The Daughters of Mars doesn’t remind you of an Australian version of “Downton Abbey,” I don’t know what would. This isn’t to disparage either work—especially not one from the author of Schindler’s List—but the similarities jump out from the opening pages. We have two sisters who don’t get along. We get the soldier with half his face blown off; the manor house converted into a hospital; the Spanish flu sweeping off otherwise young and healthy people; the upstanding bloke thrown in jail for no good reason and the faithful woman who’s willing to do whatever it takes to get him out; the deaths of loved characters that make you gasp for their sheer unfairness.
In The Daughters of Mars, the Durance sisters—chilly Naomi and somewhat more biddable Sally—sign on as army nurses at the beginning of World War I. We follow them on the long boat trip from Australia to the Mediterranean, where they nurse the soldiers coming in from the disaster at Gallipoli and endure the torpedoing of their hospital ship, the Archimedes. The sinking, depicted with hair-raising vividness by Keneally, will impact the sisters, their friends and lovers for the remainder of the war. For one thing, Naomi and Sally (who, it should be said, are not the daughters of an earl but of a dairy farmer from the Australian bush) finally begin to deal with a sad secret they thought they’d left behind in Australia.
Given the devastating nature of what was then known as the “war to end all wars,” Keneally’s touch is surprisingly nimble. He gives us only glimpses of the horror, but that’s sometimes enough. What he’s interested in are the ways the war affects the life choices of those who are caught up in it, and how ordinary folks rarely know they’re living through—or even making—history. The Daughters of Mars is a masterpiece that is sure to rank among Keneally’s best works.