Thomas Keneally, the renowned author of Schindler’s List, examines another war-ravaged era in his new book, The Daughters of Mars. The central characters, sisters Naomi and Sally Durrance, grew up on a farm in the Australian bush and trained as young women to be nurses. In 1915, they join the war effort, more to escape a terrible shared secret than to tend wounded warriors. Their enlistment takes them half a world from home. They find they have a gift for this challenging work as they attempt to help heal men wounded at Gallipoli and in the French trenches. They witness agony and horror, suffer shipwreck and shelling, find love and beauty, and reclaim their friendship against the backdrop of World War I.
This is a wonderful novel—a great story, finely crafted prose, rich characterization. At nearly 500 pages, it’s also a big book, but big as well in historical and emotional scope. The descriptions are precise and vivid, the metaphors fresh. Keneally never flinches from images of the hideous violence soldiers inflict on each other, but there are also beautiful scenes—lush and stately, reminiscent of D. H. Lawrence. Keneally even captures the trembling silence of intimate moments. The Daughters of Mars is one of those books that can open your eyes and break your heart.