Dorothy L. (Manalapan, NJ)
A Difficult Read
There are some good things about this book--its scope, range, and detailed description of World War I from a perspective I sometimes found interesting. But on the whole I would not recommend it to friends or my book club. I found it very difficult to read because of all the exposition and lack of quotation marks for dialogue. In a five hundred page book, I found this structure a serious problem. Why create barriers for the reader? Often the book was tedious and I sometime felt the minor characters were more engaging than the sisters. I felt that the large scope had positive aspects, but for me, it was too much and should have been edited better. It took me two thirds of the novel to really get into it and then I wondered at the end whether the effort was worth it. Yes, I learned a great deal about WWI from an interesting perspective but I waded through it because I was reviewing it and not because I was enjoying the experience. And while the ending was different, I have to wonder if the lack of a clear resolution in itself was a reflection of other ambiguities in the novel.
Catherine M. (Mankato, MN)
Daughter of Mars
Thomas Keneally's book, "The Daughters of Mars" follows the two Durance—"if you put an 'en' in front of it, you have one of the most flattering of words"—sisters, Sally and Naomi. The people of Macleary, the sisters' rural Australian home district, have a difficult time keeping the two straight "since both girls were aloof and looked similar—dark and rather tall." This view of the sisters as interchangeable and indistinguishable is an important theme of the story and begins the opening chapter: "It was said around the valley that the two Durance girls went off, but just one bothered to come back." Which one actually comes back might be unclear to the people of Macleary, but this lack of distinction plays a considerable role at the end of the novel.
Keneally presents several interlocking moral dilemmas for the reader to consider as he contemplates the idea of humans "playing God." First, the sisters struggle with their mother's death from cancer, and their possible role in her demise. Later, Charlie Condon, Sally's friend, suggests that killing a soldier who fights for the same side is sometimes necessary and humane, noting: "Imagine this. Imagine a man who went out on a patrol last night and got somehow stuck out there no-man's land, wounded, thirsty beyond belief, in pain without morphine, hanging on the wire and calling to us in our trench. Calling, 'I'm here!' Calling, 'Help me, cobber!'" (page 421). If they try to rescue this man, Charlie argues, then the enemy will shoot them. But they are intolerant of the man's suffering—in much the same way that Sally and Naomi are intolerant of their mother's—so what are they to do?
The character of Ian Kiernan, a "Friend" (Quaker) and Naomi's fiancé, called a "shirker" by military officials and troops, but a "conscientious objector" by the Friends, serves as the voice of non-violence, of uncertainty about the purpose and rightfulness of war. In much the same way, the nurses of the AIF—daughters of Mars, the Roman god of war and son of Juno, the deity, guardian, and counselor of women—question the morality of healing, of succouring soldiers so that they can return to battle to be re-injured or killed.
This is a remarkable book from which I learned a great deal about conflict and suffering, compassion and sacrifice, from a new perspective. When Keneally's book is published I will recommend it to all my bibliophilic friends.
Andrea S. (Lafayette, IN)
This was not a book that I took to at all. The subject matter was very emotional and the writing difficult to adapt to. I think it is more literary type fiction than I would ever want to read, but perhaps others will find it fascinating. There is a lot for a book club to discuss though, including the war, women's roles in WWI, and family dynamics.
Caryl L. (Williamsburg, VA)
Daughters of Mars
This is a book that should not be taken lightly. I do not mean that it is grim, but the subject is a serious one.
It is the story of two girls, sisters, who volunteer to be nurses to the wounded and dying during World War I. They served almost entirely in France. What they saw and heard during that time was much more than they expected. They experienced the horrors and tragedies of working with their patients. They experienced sinking ships and bombings.
As miserable as this all sounds, it has its lighter moments which takes away from the sadness of war. On their leaves, they visit towns, historical sights and even trips to England adding of a little romance and love(not Hollywood style).
Author Keneally has drawn a picture of a difficult time in our history. However, is not a difficult book to read. It is well written; the characters real; and dotting it with more pleasant times.
It kept my interest throughout. My rating is 5
Deanna W. (Port Jefferson, NY)
Cataclysm of the Great War
This is an old fashioned saga (in the best sense of the word). The scope is huge - Australia, Egypt, England, and France. It deals with historically significant issues that are still very relevant today. As a reader one can "get lost" in wonderful story telling - friendships, romances, feuds, tragedies, and more.
Cheryl W. (Crosby, MN)
I knew nothing regarding this battle in WWI. This book tells the story of the nurses and patients entered into battle. They worked, survived and died under such adverse conditions. The Australians fought this battle with Britain and it was a failure for Churchill.
My only criticism is the end of the book. I had to read several times to find out who actually died as it was not clearly stated but in the beginning it does state one returns and one does not.
Suzanne G. (Tucson, AZ)
This is a long book!
This book is absolutely the best! I loved it all. I lived with these women and all the horrific events of the war. It was a surprise to learn of the medical treatments that are still used today. I felt the characters were very realistic. I had a hard time at the end—I was so caught off guard and actually happy to have it end as it did. But have to admit it took two readings of the ending to understand it.