Thursday, July 25, 2024

Monday Night Book Club Reviews – Daughters of Mars, by Thomas Keneally

Elaine Burns

This is Keneally’s 29th novel, an epic tale of WW1 from the little-discussed Gallipoli theatre of war. Keneally is no stranger to reporting wars. His most famous novel, Schindler’s Ark, which was immortalized in the movie Schindler’s List, deals with the Nazi horror of WW2.

His novel Confederate deals with the American civil war. Keneally’s passion for reporting wars is always well-founded in exhaustive research. For this novel he read countless nurses’ diaries from the front. What emerges is a little-reported insight into unsung war heroines.

Daughters of Mars revolves around two sisters, Naomi and Sally Durrance. These sisters, both by blood and occupation, hail from Australia and enlist with the multitude of armed forces volunteers from this newly minted country. They are not close, Naomi being the older, more accomplished, sister, and share a dreadful secret. Nevertheless, they find themselves posted to the same area of the world and facing the senseless brutality of war.

It is important to note that while traditional WW1 remembrances only touch on the war in Gallipoli, in Australia and New Zealand this is the battle remembered. They mark this in April each year with a national holiday. Many believe that their men were used as cannon fodder in this battle, a not unreasonable stance.

Daughters of Mars plays out across the European battlefields from the unique perspective of those not fighting the battle but dealing with its atrocities. Keneally takes the time to not only reveal the thoughts and emotions of the nurses but also the wounded soldiers. It is in these personal accounts that we glimpse how truly brutal war can be.

This book was loved by all. It is a compelling read, enough history to make it real and enough fiction to keep it interesting. None of us, ashamedly, were knowledgeable about the war in Gallipolli, nor of the Baltic conflict. This novel has spurred us to research.

It must be said that the fiction part of the novel, the love stories, the friendships, the ultimate bonding of Naomi and Sally, stands on its own merit. You truly do feel you are there. Those of us who are nurses felt it represented fairly those often unsung heroines of war, the nursing sisters. Many who aren’t nurses wanted to know how we could move from casualty to casualty so seamlessly. There is no easy answer to that other than, “You do what you can for those you can and take pride in what you can do.” It is often a thankless job. At the corner of University Ave and College St. in Toronto, there is a statue of Edith Cavell. Cavell was a famous nurse in WW1, so treasured by returning soldiers that this statue was erected long before it was fashionable to remember nurses in wars. There are many daughters born to returning soldiers that bear her name in remembrance. My mother was one of them.

Daughters of Mars is a worthwhile read, an enjoyable read, a necessary read.

Our next book is The Bully Pulpit, by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

FOML Update:

The FOML Board is on hiatus until March 2016. Why not come out to our first meeting on Thursday, March 10 at 7 pm in the Library Board Room.

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