Monday, 22 March 2021

The Daughters of Mars

Finished March 21 
The Daughters of Mars by Thomas Keneally

This novel takes place just before and during World War I, following two sisters from small town Australia through the war. Both Naomi and Sally are nurses, Naomi in Sydney and Sally in Macleary, where they grew up. As the story begins their mother is in the last stages of cervical cancer, being looked after at home by Sally after her regular work at the local hospital, with occasional visits and respite for Sally from Naomi. Sally is the younger sister, and she resents Naomi for some things, like escaping their small town, but also feels tied to her by other experiences.
Both girls apply to go overseas when there is a call for nurses, and both are chosen. Naomi has pressured Sally to stay home to look after their father, but Sally fights to find her own life. They are in the same batch of nurses to ship out, and it takes them some war experiences to find friendship as well as sisterhood. They are often in the same group of nurses, and form friendships with these other women, from a variety of backgrounds. They are also in contact with officers in the Australian army, army doctors, and orderlies and various friendships, and romances develop between the nurses and these men during the years of the war. 
The women go through a variety of harrowing and draining experiences, with all of their skills called upon. They serve in receiving wounded men in the harbour of Gallipoli, on the island of Lemnos, and in France. They grow into their adult selves and find internal strength through these experiences as well as the determination and support for each other that they didn't have before the war. This novel was nominated for numerous awards and won several, and was a book that I could barely put down despite it being a doorstopper. Both Naomi and Sally are deeply drawn and you get a real sense for their characters. There are also several supporting characters who come to life through their interactions and reactions to the situations they are faced with. Well worth the read. 

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