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Kathryn K. (Oceanside, CA)
I had really looked forward to reading Thomas Kennelly's latest book, Daughters of Mars. It is a story about two sisters from Australia, who volunteer to become nurses during WWI. Not knowing much about WWI, it really appealed to me and I had visions of an early 20th century version of M.A.S.H. -- albeit about my grandfather's military. But it was a ponderous read and very disappointing. There were chapters that I found interesting, but without details about the war that would anchor the story, a lot of what I read just got lost in a narrative that didn't make a lot of sense. It was almost as if the writer took a bunch of "stories" and threw them together hoping readers would somehow get it. It was like trying to complete a puzzle with way too many pieces missing. When I finished the last page I just shook my head thinking – what?! It is not a book I would recommend to anyone - least of all, my book groups.
Jean N. (New Richmond, OH)
The sisters showed pure determination in dealing with all the situations they endured as volunteer nurses during World War I. As I plodded through the pages of this book, I felt like it was pure determination on my part to keep on going so that I could write a review. The writing style was very difficult to read. I often had to go back to get the meaning of a passage, or to be sure of which character the author was talking about. I am a reader who reads every word of a book, and "whoa", did I have my work cut out for me. If I had it to do over again I would have taken notes from the beginning to keep track of locations, characters, battles, etc. Maps and perhaps charts of the battles and locations, etc. would have been helpful, especially to readers who are unfamiliar with WWI.
Anne (Austin, TX)
The Daughters of Mars
I did give the book a rating of 4, because in the midst of the verbosity of the book, I do think this was an above average book. I came away with a awareness of this war that I didn't have before. There were many interesting issues raised that would be worthy of discussion. I feel that the book could have been improved by a style that would have been easier to read.
I am glad that I read The Daughters of Mars, but I am relieved to have reached the end of the book. And I would be happier if I knew how it really did end!
This is a huge book with a large cast of characters and a massive story to tell. Written from the point of view of nurses and other medical personnel who cared for those wounded on the front lines of WWI, it is unique. From sinking ships to mustard gas burns to shell shocked soldiers and nurses who love them, Keneally lives up to the reputation he gained from Schindler's List and others he has written. He tells the story in a way that makes you feel almost as though you can smell the rot and the fetid air the gassed soldiers are coughing up. I gravitate to books with a medical perspective and this one has the added benefit of being a story not often told.
Virginia B. (Forest Park, IL)
Daughters of Mars
Like others, I'm not sure I understand the twist at the end but think it would make a great discussion topic. Plenty of topics for a book club to dissect and discuss.
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.
Diane S. (Batavia, IL)
Daughters of Mars
I love historical fiction and I really admired Schindler's list. This is an epic novel that seemed to go on and on. Loved the historical facts, loved the two sisters and the closeness they at times shared. So why didn't I love this novel? There is a fine line, between adding details to keep the reader interested in the story and adding details in such a quantity that it overwhelms the reader. That is what I felt happened in this story. Every time I felt myself melding into the story it would go wandering off on some detail or tidbit that would interrupt the narrative flow. The lack of punctuation did not bother me half as much as the endless details. Yet, I cannot deny the amount of research that went into this novel. Just wish I could have enjoyed it more.
Jan M. (Broken Arrow, OK)
Hard to Read
I'm sorry to rate this book poor, for it was a wonderful book, but it was hard to read. The sentences go on forever. I realize the purpose was to imitate private journals, but in doing so, it made reading difficult. I found myself re-reading passages in an attempt to understand what the author was saying, and the need to do that took away from the pleasure of the book. Now that said, the story was tremendous. It brought the horrors of the war into my living room. One could almost feel the pain and terror of the casualties. A story well-told, but in dire need of some structural editing.
Amy F. (West Roxbury, MA)
The Daughters of Mars by Thomas Keneally
I so wanted to love this book. Schlindler's List by this author is one of my favorite books of all time. This book just did not do it for me. I found the topic interesting and loved that the story focused on the lives of two nurses, but the epic events described in the book that should have pulled me in just did not pull me in at all. I thought that the author had the historical timeframe portrayed perfectly, but the writing just did not make me happy, sad, angry, etc. The book was so descriptive and long that I think it took away from my ability to feel the emotion of the story. I also did not like the uncertainty of the ending. After 500 pages there should at least be clarity of which sister lives and which sister dies. Unfortunately this book was a big disappointment for me, especially given my previous experience with this author.
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.