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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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Mary S. (Pinson, AL) (05/21/13)

The Daughters of Mars by Thomas Keneally
I enjoyed this story of two sisters, both trying to escape a secret at home by dedicating their lives to nursing during World War I. The friendships and romances that develop on the front-lines make this an interesting read; however, Keneally's image of medical care in the chaos of the battlefield may not be for everyone. I think this novel would make an excellent discussion for book groups.
Tilli F. (Florence, MA) (05/21/13)

Daughters of Mars
This was a difficult book for me to read. This author has a style that puts great distance between this reader and the characters. Thus even though there are many horrible things that happen during the course of the book: the Australian experience at Gallipoli and on the French front during World War One, and deals with the nurses experiences in those catastrophic events, I found myself very distant from the sisters who are the main characters as well as the other nurses. Death, grief, terror - all are experienced by this reader as academic events that are of academic interest. I have felt this way about the other Kaneally books I have read, but thought this one would be different. Sadly, it wasn't. At the end there is a peculiar style which piqued my interest, but it was too little, too late
Judy W. (Tucker, GA) (05/20/13)

Daughters of Mars by Thomas Keneally
I plowed through this book in order to write a review for BookBrowse; otherwise, I would have stopped reading after the first 50 pages. The writing is quite good, but nothing seemed to flow throughout the 500 pages. His character development is quite in-depth and descriptive. The plot of the story, Australian nurses serving in WWI, is unique. I would recommend this title to others with the caveat that I did not enjoy it.
Dorothy L. (Manalapan, NJ) (05/19/13)

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.
Nancy H. (Foster City, CA) (05/19/13)

A very powerful portrayal
The author writes about the battlefield realities of WWI with great power and poignancy. One is drawn into what could otherwise seem an overly bleak tale by the humanity, bravery and dedication of countless medical professionals and volunteers whose everyday heroism insists on our respectful attention. It is a whallopingly powerful story that is likely to become a screenplay and successful movie in no time.

I have not read other books by Keneally, and if the writing style is the same as this I would not. I found the lack of traditional punctuation uncomfortable and the overall style dense and yet somehow bloated at the same time. He seems to paint characters with greater clarity than he does their situation and surroundings. The characters were so interesting that I found much of the other description a distraction. Many times I put the book down because there was too much of a slog through descriptions when what I really wanted to know was what would next happen to his wonderful characters. Honestly, I think a good hundred pages could be removed without weakening the story. I'd also be curious to know if he was over deadline when he wrote the ending, which to me was another distraction from the respect I developed for many of the characters.
Catherine M. (Mankato, MN) (05/19/13)

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) (05/16/13)

Tough Read
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) (05/15/13)

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

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