The Daughters of Mars: Book summary and reviews of The Daughters of Mars by Thomas Keneally

The Daughters of Mars

By Thomas Keneally

The Daughters of Mars
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  • Published in USA  Aug 2013,
    544 pages.

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Book Summary

From the acclaimed author of Schindler's List, the epic, unforgettable story of two sisters from Australia, both trained nurses, whose lives are transformed by the cataclysm of the first World War.

In 1915, 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. Used to tending the sick as they are, nothing could have prepared them for what they confront, first near Gallipoli, then on the Western Front.

Yet amid the carnage, Naomi and Sally Durance become the friends they never were at home and find themselves courageous in the face of extreme danger, as well as the hostility they encounter 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 precious independence - if only they all survive.

At once vast in scope and extraordinarily intimate, The Daughters of Mars brings World War I to vivid, concrete life from an unusual perspective. A searing and profoundly moving tale, it pays tribute to men and women of extraordinary moral resilience, even in the face of the incomprehensible horrors of modern war.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"The horrific butcher's bill of WWI trench fighting...is at the heart of this moving epic novel from the author of Schindler's List." - Publishers Weekly

"Starred Review. Extraordinarily moving… Keneally is a master of character development and period... Fans of Downton Abbey and Gallipoli alike will find much to admire in Keneally's fast-moving, flawlessly written pages." - Kirkus

"Magnificent… a stunning performance, full of suspense, searing particulars, and deep emotion.… The huge talents of Thomas Keneally are everywhere on display." - The Guardian

"May be the best novel of Keneally's career… a book that aims for, and achieves, real grandeur." - The Spectator, One of the Best Books of 2012

"Superbly exciting to read... An unmissable, unforgettable tribute." - The Times, London

"Not only is The Daughters of Mars one of the most ambitious novels in a career that stretches back to 1964, but it might even be the best… The result is something few other authors would aim for, let alone achieve: genuine grandeur." - The Telegraph

"A big and brutal book, a new prism through which to think about World War I…breathtaking…magnificent and almost magical. There are moments of joy, of pleasure, that make you look up from their page for a while to arrest and savour their sensation." - The Australian

"Along with a Tolstoyan ability to describe the horrors of battle, this amazing book also has an extraordinary intimacy, especially in the relationship between the sisters...an altogether towering achievement." - A.N. Wilson

"Now, at last and triumphantly, there is a full-scale Keneally novel of the Great War...All of it is handled by Keneally with calm mastery. If epic is no longer a literary category that fits this world, The Daughters of Mars nonetheless has a tragic and humane span that few recent novels have attempted, let alone equalled." - Canberra Times

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Reader Reviews

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Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Carol J. (Isle, MN)
Daughters of Mars
Must admit it took me a few pages to get into this book, but once I was grabbed I enjoyed it completely. It was a very detailed accounting of WWI's casualties and the nurses and doctors who took care of them.
As a nurse who served in the Army, I found this book even more intriguing. The detail was amazing.
The characters were very well developed, so that I felt I knew them well and did not want any harm to come to them. There was always that sense that anything could happen to any of the characters.
And of course the ending was jaw dropping. So frequently the ending of a book is a let down. Definitely not in this book.
I would highly recommend the book. Although one needs to devote plenty of time to read it in all its detail,

Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Carol P. (Mendham, NJ)
WWI and the Extraordinary Women who Volunteered
I was always interested to read about WWI and this period in history and this story about two sisters volunteering to be nurses during WWI seemed to be a perfect reading choice.

Sally and Naomi met many other exceptional women as they cared for so many wounded in battle. They also met exceptional men who demonstrated remarkable bravery.

Mr. Keneally is a gifted writer and there were aspects of the story that were very touching- you truly see the horrors of war and yet you also are made aware of the bravery of those who sacrificed their lives. The author also touches on the women of the time and the social mores impacting them.

There were highlights in the book which drew me into the story but I also found I lost track of the characters. Mr. Keneally focused on multiple characters while at the same time moving from Sally to Naomi and at times I had to go back and double check where I had left off. The sisters also shared a secret regarding the death of their mother and it seemed the resolution of this secret lost its focus.

I would recommend this book to those interested in reading about WWI from the perspective of the women and men facing the war from the trenches. There is a beauty in the words of this novel which captures the reader.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Laurie B. (Jacksonville, FL)
well written but slow
I don't need books to be action packed by any means, but this was a little too plodding for my taste. Despite that, a good and interesting story with good character development, and worth reading. Not for everyone, but if you like fiction with historical background this will probably appeal to you

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Mary G. (Purcellville, VA)
Daughters of Mars is Mesmerizing
I would like to thank BookBrowse for giving me the opportunity to read this exceptional novel. It tells the story of some of the unsung heroines of World War 1: the volunteer nurses. Through the lives of the Durance sisters and the other members of their Australian nurses corps, Keneally does a terrific job of conveying their courage and fortitude in the face of unimaginable horror and privation. The book was absorbing from start to finish, but I have to confess the ending took me completely by surprise and I am still thinking about it--a week after finishing the book. Put this book on your must read list.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Maggie R. (Canoga Park, CA)
Keneally is back!
I love this book. How could I not? A favorite author who has written, besides Schindler's List, a string of novels of life in Australia . . . a favorite setting for fiction, WWI. Think Pat Barker's Regeneration trilogy, Sebastien Japrisot's "A Very Long Engagement". Hallelujah!

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Dee H. (Greenfield, CA)
War is Grim
This was a very good book with excellent character development and what I believe was an accurate picture of what went on in the field hospitals of WWI. The view of the war through the eyes of two Australian nurses who are sisters stretches from Egypt, where the sisters deal with the aftermath of the battles at Gallipoli, to France, where the casualties of the Somme relentlessly fill the hospitals. Along the way love and loss find the sisters and bring some variety to the daily struggle to help combatants survive.

I put off finishing this book because I feared that it wasn't going to end well, but I did finish it and I heartily recommend Daughters of Mars to anyone who enjoys historical novels. Be warned that the descriptions of war wounds are pretty graphic, but don't let that dissuade you from reading this great book from a great author.

...34 more reader reviews

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Thomas Keneally began his writing career in 1964 and has published twenty-five novels since. They include Schindler's List, which won the Booker Prize in 1982, The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, Confederates, and Gossip from the Forest, all of which were shortlisted for the Booker Prize. He has also written several works of nonfiction, including his boyhood memoir Homebush Boy, The Commonwealth of Thieves, and Searching for Schindler. He is married with two daughters and lives in Sydney, Australia.

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