Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Review: THE DAUGHTERS OF MARS, by Thomas Keneally
I'd never read Thomas Keneally before, although I know him as the Booker-Prize-winning author of Schindler's Ark and many other books (he's incredibly prolific) but something about his latest The Daughters of Mars caught my eye at the bookstore one day. I read the opening paragraph and got hooked then found the rest of the book to be as addictive reading as those opening lines.
The Daughters of Mars is about Naomi and Sally Durance, two Australian sisters who volunteer as nurses during World War 1. They share a secret between them, not only a rivalry as sisters do but shared guilt and complicity in the death of their mother after a long illness. They have grown up on a farm in rural Australia and Naomi is the first to leave; Sally tries to look after their father but she too feels compelled to leave for the war. At first she and Naomi are stationed together, on a hospital ship called the Archimedes, but their fates diverge after a pivotal and devastating turn of events.
One of the things I loved about this book is the way things kept happening. This is no melancholy meditation on war or sisterhood or whatnot. We get some of that, and the relationships between the characters and especially the two sisters are crucial but it's also very much a plot book. Something new and important happens with nearly every chapter. Being set in hospitals there are plenty of gory details to go around but not as much as I frankly expected. The book follows the sisters' relationships and fates, that of their friends and fellow-nurses and their romances. Naomi gets involved with an English aristocrat who founds her own volunteer hospital, and Sally's career goes off on its own course.
I found The Daughters of Mars to be a really moving and meaty, and one that I can see recommending to lots of readers due to its mixture of plot, character and historical setting. The women travel from Australia to Egypt to Europe and back again and we see the changing, volatile world through their eyes. Their lives and that of their family and friends are indelibly shaped and changed by war and the book is a really solid and satisfying read that I think lots of readers will really enjoy.
FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.