The Daughters of Mars is the new novel penned down by Schindler’s List and Confederates author, Thomas Keneally. And just like his previous works, his new book is a powerfully brave narrative that brings World War I with all its horrors come to life in the eyes of two Australian nurses.
Keneally’s new all-powerful novel centers on the Durance sisters and their experiences as nurses during the Great War.
Sally and Naomi were content with their lives as registered nurses in Australia’s Macleay Valley, the place they consider home, when two tragedies struck: one personal and the other global – their mother had been diagnosed with cancer and the start of World War I.
The sisters signed up for the war immediately as nurses. Leaving their provincial lives behind, they were taken to Gallipoli and then were shipped to the Western Front’s slaughterhouse along with a small company of nurses. They were just a few of the thousand Australian women who worked as nurses throughout the duration of WWI, serving either in hospital ships or in triage stations located just within earshot from the front lines.
Keneally’s Ability as a Storyteller
Keneally showed the same writing characteristics that made his previous ones masterpieces when he penned Daughters of Mars. His chapters are excellently woven together and quite rich in words the reader will be transported into its very scenes like a first-hand eyewitness.
His writing borders on the poetical as he shuns to conceptualize the events in his novel. He used descriptions that will make the reader feel whatever the characters were feeling on that certain scene. This was shown in how he depicted these pictures in his new book; writing about how a nearby explosion “threatened to loosen Sally’s bladder” or the way he described Notre Dame as “like the pyramids, the cathedral could be approached by ordinary steps taken by one’s daily legs”. He repeatedly displayed his magic of making his scenes so real by presenting them in contrasts just like in one setting where the sisters were looking forward to seeing the fabled Greek island of Lemnos from the hospital ship they were in but when they did, they found it “now reduced from myth to the level of any other dreary island.”
As Keneally’s characters move deeper into the plot, he gave them no illusions that made the book all the more absorbing but at the same time nerve-wracking. He depicted events as they are, the matter-of-fact style so similar to how Nicholas Monsarrat wrote his war fiction The Cruel Sea.
But Keneally did allow his main characters to find love amidst the backdrop of the raging war despite how one character described men as strange creatures. One unforgettable scene was of Naomi’s young man shouting his intent on the pitching deck of a ship:
“I favor you greatly. … Would you consider marrying me?”
Sally had her share of love troubles as well with her beau described as lacking that “dark pulse in the eyes” which most combat veterans had – “that almost chemical mixture of fatalism and bloody remembrance and tired ruthlessness”.
The novel does have an unexpected twist in the end, something that might make readers want to have their money back.
But with Thomas Keneally as the author, The Daughters of Mars will surely be a bestselling masterpiece.
And do we have a film adaptation in the making?