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
    Genre: Historical Fiction

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About this book

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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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,

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.

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!

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.

Virginia B. (Forest Park, IL)

Daughters of Mars
Daughters of Mars was an interesting perspective of WWI through the eyes of Naomi and Sally. I did have a bit of trouble getting used to the way it was written. Once I did, I had a hard time putting the book down. I liked the way the sisters became friends during the hardships that they endured. I also liked how their love lives developed out of friendship. Naomi and Sally both got into nursing to get away from the family farm and found their true calling. It seems as if they truly enjoyed nursing the wounded. I think it's always interesting to read about medical practices so different from what we're used to today and I am horrified at the arcane medical techniques and surprised to learn many survived. I did have to read the end a couple of times to discern who actually died and I don't think I understand where the author got the name of the book. All in all, it was a very enjoyable book and I would highly recommend it.

Charles T. (Asheville, NC)

A different view of the First World War
Thomas Keneally has written an epic novel of the First World War and made it unique by telling the story from the viewpoint of Australian nurses and soldiers instead of the traditional viewpoint of the French and the English and the Americans. The Australian insistence on non conscription forces and volunteers, gives that country a place in the horrible fighting that sets them apart and supports the indefatigable efforts of the country's nurses and soldiers. The book is magnificent in it's characters, plot and language.

The author uses dialogue with no punctuation so it is completely unobtrusive and effective in moving the action and at the same time adds dimension to the characters.

The plot revolves around the Durrance sisters and their nursing work close to the front lines that tells the story of the brutality of the fighting better than blow-by-blow descriptions of the actual combat.

One of the main points of the book is the age old question of the morality of pacifists who participate in war. A primary character is a Quaker (Friends) who is found guilty of treason because of his refusal to be transferred from a medical support unit to a weapon carrying unit.

I'm not sure what the author is trying to do by confusing the reader with two endings but It didn't do justice to the bulk of the book.

...34 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Thomas Keneally Author Biography

Thomas Keneally began his writing career in 1964 and has published thirty-one novels since. They include Schindler's List, which won the Booker Prize in 1982, The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, Gossip from the Forest, and Confederates, 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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