Thomas Keneally – the Booker Prize-winning author best known for his novel Schindler’s List - is receiving warm reviews for his “bludgeoningly powerful new novel” set during World War I, The Daughters of Mars.
As Steve Donoghue writes in the Washington Post, it tells the story of “Sally and Naomi Durance [who] are making their living as registered nurses in Australia’s Macleay Valley when a pair of catastrophes strike, one intimate and one global: Their mother develops cancer, and the Great War erupts. The Durance sisters sign up at once and leave their provincial lives behind, shipping out first to Gallipoli and then to the slaughterhouse of the Western Front in a small company of fellow nurses, some of the thousands of Australian women who served in hospital ships and hastily erected triage stations within earshot of the front lines.two nurses who join the combined forces of Australia and New Zealand during some of the war’s fiercest fighting, in the Dardanelles.
The sisters see little of the battles, but all of the gruesome aftermaths. “War was, of course, never far away: doctors and nurses had necessarily to be close to the action,”Alan Riding observes in the New York Times Book Review. “But more often they saw it through its grisly aftermath: human bodies savaged by shells, bullets, shrapnel, trench foot, gangrene, mustard gas, typhoid or shell shock. ‘On a cot before them,’ Keneally writes, ‘lay a man whose wound once unbandaged showed a face that was half steak, and no eyes. The lack of features made his age impossible to guess.’ We soon learn a great deal more about missing limbs, amputations, infections, hemorrhages and diseases. And how to live alongside death.”
Sam Sacks of the Wall Street Journal adds, “the author's unspoken message is that The Daughters of Mars is a traditional war novel and that nurses weren't a piquant sidelight to the Great War but combatants as central to the conflict as the soldiers themselves. … The Daughters of Mars powerfully depicts the known world gone mad with killing, but before that malicious backdrop are the brighter intimacies of maturation, courage and camaraderie. Next year ushers in a half-decade of centenaries of World War I, and we will be buried in a landslide of novels and nonfiction competing for our attention. I wouldn't be surprised if Mr. Keneally's book turns out to be among the best of them.”
Thomas Keneally’s Top Ten List
1. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (1847).
2. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson (1881–82).
3. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1850).
4. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (1860–61).
5. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (1869).
6. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce (1916).
7. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (1925).
8. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925).
9. Voss by Patrick White (1957).
10. The Tin Drum by Günter Grass (1959).