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The Daughters of Mars

by Thomas Keneally

The Daughters of Mars by Thomas Keneally X
The Daughters of Mars by Thomas Keneally
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  • Published in USA  Aug 2013
    544 pages
    Genre: Historical Fiction

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Marjorie H. (Woodstock, GA) (05/28/13)

Every now and then a book comes along that is extraordinary and "Daughters of Mars" is in that category for me.
The book begins with two Australian sisters who sign on to serve halfway around the world in the medical units of WWI. They are the center of the circle that is ever widening as the story unfolds. They are marvelous characters who share a family secret, a dislike for one another and also the abiding love that two women share as occupiers of the same womb.
The graphic descriptions of wounded soldiers - both physically and mentally may be hard for some to read. However, Kenneally's gift of prose is a 'come hither' invitation. You cannot put it down. The backdrop of the war brings all into focus. The war is a character in the book bringing sick, wounded and dying to suffer their horrors. The realism Kenneally brings to every circumstance puts the reader right in the middle. Each character is carefully drawn - rich and real.
Some may find the ending not to their liking. I haven't decided whether I liked the ending - may have to re-read.
Don't miss it!!
Gary R. (Bolingbrook, IL) (05/28/13)

The war to end all wars!
Another great book by a master.a tale of two Aussie sisters who volunteer as nurses during the great war.really enjoyed this book,the descriptions of the conditions that existed and the horrors everyone endured we're written as if Keneally was this this book,it will make you realize that our methods of killing may have changed but in the end it's always the endurance and heroics of the people that matter!
Power Reviewer
Lee M. (Creve Coeur, MO) (05/27/13)

World War 1
From Australia to Tripoli, and then to the Western Front in World War I this book follows two nurses, that also happen to be sisters. Thomas Keneally writes very graphically about the atrocities committed in the name of war and makes an excellent case, perhaps unintentionally, for pacifism. He writes so emotionally about Naomi and Sally Durance that it blurs the fact that it is a man writing about women's thoughts and emotions. I found this book extremely enjoyable. Caution, the factual descriptions are quite explicit. Keneally sneaks in a little twist at the end.
Joanne V. (Towanda, PA) (05/26/13)

World War I from a different perspective
I really enjoyed this book because of the author's character development - I really cared about all the characters especially the nurses and what they endured during WWI. I had no problem with the author's writing style and rather liked it. I was somewhat confused by the ending, but on the whole, it was a very satisfying read. I would recommend it to my book club since there is considerable material for discussion. My only negative is that it is a bit too long and could be cut a bit - it may be daunting for some readers.
Judith B. (Retired Reader, NE) (05/26/13)

Tedious but Somewhat Worth the Effort
My problem with this book is that I couldn't determine what it wanted to be: the story of two sisters and their difficult relationship, an insight into nursing conditions in WWI, or a summary of Australia's contributions in the war. The book would benefit from the use of quotation marks to designate conversations and chapters marked with dates and the character involved. Much of the time I couldn't determine which sister was in the action. And the ending is a real cop out. After patiently reading 500 pages, I'm not sure how it ended. This is my first book to read from Keneally, and I won't read another one. A good author owes us better construction and explanation. He assumes too much. The book would benefit from maps of Australia and the war movements. Also a timeline of the war would help. I did enjoy the parts about the nurses and what they had to endure.
Barbara C. (Fountain Hills, AZ) (05/24/13)

The Daughers of Mars
The Daughters of Mars. Mars the god of war. What a perfect title for a book which lays bare the horrors, the futility, the brutality, and "glories" of war. Sally and Naomi are the daughters, the faithful sister nurses from Australia, who devote three years of their lives to saving and mending the broken bodies and minds of the men who were fed into the flames of the war machine of World War I.

Keneally does not stint on the scenes, smells and feel of the men under fire who suffered shrapnel, bullets, bombings and the ghastly new killing device - mustard gas. The medical procedures, techniques and equipment used in 1916 were precursors of our modern medicine - chloroform, ether, blood transfusions, sepsis control, and morphine. As primitive as the surgical and medical theatres were, it was interesting to read that these methods saved lives and repaired bodies, even then.

The formal writing style of Keneally is rather Dickensian in it archaic structure, constrained tone, and unique turn of phrase. Several sentences and paragraphs required second readings to fully grasp the meaning and content of the words - vocabulary so diverse and complex to require a dictionary. The lack of quotation marks was, at first, a questionable technique, but, in reading further, it seemed to provide a flow and exchange of dialogue without the constant break of marks.

It took a while into the book before the sisters came to life. The constant jumping from one to the other within a chapter was disconcerting and a bit confusing. at first Charlie, Ian, Mitchie, Lady Tarlton and Constable were perfect foils as companions to the sisters. It was interesting to see the change in Naomi as she was introduced to the Quaker community, and Sally as Charlie exposed her to the art masters.

One criteria of a "good book" is its influence on the reader to further research ideas, characters, incidents, places, etc. The Daughters of Mars was a wealth of new information: ANZAC and involvement of Australians in WWI; the timeline and theatres of the war; the medical techniques; the devastation of venereal disease and influenza; the idea of conscription and shirkers were all concepts introduced in the book which required more thought and background research.

Of course, the ending still has me scratching my head. Did Keneally really mean to have two endings and have the reader pick? Was he trying to find the best ending? Am I missing something? After his forthright and non-emotional language throughout the book, the complex and magical realistic duplicity was a shock. Yes, there were little surprises here and there, like the questions as to whether Sally and Naomi did commit a mercy killing, but all in all, the story was rather straightforward until this mysterious ending.

If a book club is willing to read a very long and dense book, and is amenable to reading about lots and lots of bloody wartime injuries, this book has much food for thought and discussion.
Power Reviewer
Sandra H. (St. Cloud, MN) (05/22/13)

The War to End All Wars
Too often novels about war are only incidentally about women or have secondary women characters. But in The Daughters of Mars Thomas Keneally puts them front and center allowing readers to see and experience what it was like to be a nurse in World War I, long before women were thought to be capable of doing more than cleaning up wards and wounded patients and following orders from anyone who wore pants.

Australians Sally and Naomi Durance are no nonsense young women who sign up to become military nurses in early 1915. During the next five years, they learn that there is much more to nursing than their training has prepared them for. From their first experience in the Dardanelles on the peninsula in Gallipoli where the Australians are brutally beaten in a battle the soldiers and their commanders had expected to win with ease, we follow them to France and England as they serve in hospitals and on the front. Sally, Naomi, and the other nurses fight battles to help severely wounded soldiers with serious head wounds, blindness, amputations, and PTSD using medical knowledge that was not much advanced from the American Civil War days. And they must also battle an ingrained male belief that women are indeed the weaker and less important of the sexes.
On a larger scale, Keneally shows the effects of this devastating war not only on the soldiers and the nurses, but also the civilians who struggle to understand the unimaginable. Lives are destroyed, love is found and lost. Keanelly spares us nothing.

I have but two complaints. First, a map of the Dardenelles and Gallipoli would have been especially useful. Next, I wish that Kenneally had simply ended the book without choices.

Read this book to experience life in a world that we know so little about and has as much to say about the human experience today as it does about life 100 years ago. Don't miss that experience.
Nancy O. (Hobe Sound, FL) (05/22/13)

Couldn't put this one down
There's so much to this book that it will probably require a second reading (no problem there -- I've already ordered a "real" copy) but in the meantime, once I started it I was having trouble putting it down to do real-world things. I don't say that about a book too often, but this one drew me in and kept me there, largely due to a) its emphasis on the nurses and how they coped with the horrors of war all around them, b) the stories of the wounded soldiers whose lives were in some cases forever altered, and c) the number of interesting dilemmas posed by the author throughout the book. I was also caught up in Keneally's powerful writing -- although the book may have been a bit overlong, I was really taken by his ability to write in such a way that his descriptions became real, especially in the scenes of the attack on the ship and the depictions of the suffering of the wounded. As an FYI, the author does not use quotation marks around dialogue, but I didn't have a problem with it at all. Also, the dual endings might be confusing (or for some, annoying), but I found them to be in keeping with one of the overall themes of this book -- the randomness of life which at any time may offer a host of unexpected outcomes.

People who are interested in WWI might find this book of interest, since obviously an incredible amount of research went into this novel; readers of well-written historical fiction or anti-war fiction will also find it worth their while. It's also certainly a book club candidate for the number of issues raised throughout the story.

Super book, one I highly recommend.


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