The Daughters Of Mars

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In the tradition of Atonement and Birdsong, the Durance sisters leave Australia to nurse on the front during WWI and discover a world beyond their imaginings.

Book Setting: Macleay Valley, Sydney and all the fronts of WWI
The Daughters Of Mars, Tom Keneally

In the tradition of Atonement and Birdsong, the Durance sisters leave Australia to nurse on the front during WWI and discover a world beyond their imaginings.

Shortlisted for the Colin Roderick Prize.

Naomi and Sally Durance are daughters of a dairy farmer from the Macleay Valley. Bound together in complicity by what they consider a crime, when the Great War begins in 1914 they hope to submerge their guilt by leaving for Europe to nurse the tides of young wounded.

They head for the Dardanelles on the hospital ship Archimedes. Their education in medicine, valour and human degradation continues on the Greek island of Lemnos, then on the Western Front. Here, new outrages - gas, shell-shock - present themselves.

Naomi encounters the wonderful, eccentric Lady Tarlton, who is founding a voluntary hospital near Boulogne; Sally serves in a casualty clearing station close to the front. They meet the men with whom they would wish to spend the rest of their lives.

Inspired by the journals of Australian nurses who gave their all to the Great War effort and the men they nursed. The Daughters Of Mars is vast in scope yet extraordinarily intimate. A stunning tour de force to join the best First World War literature, and one that casts a penetrating light on the lives of obscure but strong women caught in the great mill of history.


2013 Colin Roderick Award

Available Formats

  • Paperback
    $19.99 RRP
    ISBN: 9781864712261
    Published: 03/06/2013
    Imprint: Vintage Australia
    Extent: 608 pages
  • eBook
    ISBN: 9781864712278
    Published: 01/06/2012
    Imprint: RHA eBooks Adult
    Extent: 608 pages
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"Keneally's latest novel, The Daughters of Mars, is a big and brutal book, a new prism through which to think about World War I. Keneally draws you in and pins you in as the Durance sisters and their fellow nurses face the full gamut of war, from Gallipoli up to the Western Front.
The description of a torpedo attack and its aftermath - who survives, who concedes, the ebb and flow of endurance, and the utter randomness of the whole damn thing - is breathtaking and exhausting. And in its image of people broken down beyond their individual selves, their minds and memories transposable, lies the seed for the magnificent and almost magical sleight of the novel's end.
The breadth and accretion of all this is dazzling, matched - and sometimes superseded - by the perfection of the intimate gestures and internal moments through which he vivifies his young women. What grief looks like as it works across somebody's lips; how human touch feels to someone more used to swabbing and stitching." - Ashley Hay, The Australian

"the huge talents of Thomas Keneally are everywhere on display." - Jay Parini, The Guardian

"Keneally’s traditional qualities of scrupulous historical research, thumping storytelling and sympathy for the suffering are all there. This time, though, they’re combined with phrasemaking of such powerful resonance that the result is something few other authors would aim for, let alone achieve: genuine grandeur.
Keneally has long been interested in how Australians, tucked away blamelessly at the bottom of the world, have often found themselves at the dark centre of European history. And of course too, seeing it through the entirely unprepared eyes of these young women is one of the ways in which he restores the war’s essential strangeness.
Meanwhile, however broad the historical themes become, Keneally never loses sight of the individual members of his increasingly huge cast, treating the themes of family and friendship with the same mixture of quiet seriousness and page-turning brio as he tackles the war. By my calculation, he also manages to serve up at least seven wholly convincing love stories." - James Walton, The Telegraph (UK)

"The historical reconstruction feels absolutely meticulous...the sinking of the Archimedes is an extraordinary passage of writing. Written very good as Schindler's Ark...the First World War seen from a completely different point of view. He does the women fantastically well... Good on love, good on sex...just wonderful... his masterpiece. There are extraordinary moments. Many, many pages and never a moment wasted.

We're all agreed: wonderful." - Tom Sutcliffe, John Carey, Susan Jeffreys and Paul Morley, BBC 4 Saturday Review

"Thomas Keneally is probably still best known for Schindler's Ark...but his new novel is a masterpiece too...along with a Tolstoyan ability to describe the horrors of battle, this amazing book also has an extraordinary intimacy, especially in the relationship between the sisters (again, Tolstoy comes to mind.) altogether towering achievement." - AN Wilson

"No Australian author has written more eloquently or extensively of war than Tom Keneally. If epic is no longer a literary category that fits this world, The Daughters of Mars nonetheless has a tragic and humane span that few recent novels have attempted, let alone equalled." - Peter Pierce, Panorama, The Canberra Times

"A new Keneally novel is always a treat and this mammoth tome blends meticulous research with the human story of two Australian nurses who go to war. The dignity and courage of these men and women is skilfully brought into focus. This monumental work, inspired by the actual journals of Australian nurses, animates a vital part of our collective history, one we must never forget." - Jennifer Byrne, The Australian Women's Weekly

"Keneally's fascination with the roles ordinary people like these young women play in momentous events gives The Daughters of Mars its terrific energy and freshness. Keneally has fashioned a tale that honours the remarkable contribution that nurses made to the war effort. In doing so, he rebukes any notion that war is noble." - Patrick Allington, Adelaide Advertiser

"Tom Keneally is at his powerful best when he is writing about the ships, the tent hospitals and the visionary Australian Voluntary Hospital. His descriptions— the arrival and treatment of hundreds of wounded at a time, of life and death decision-making, of medicine practised under impossible conditions, and of the inexhaustible compassion and drive of the doctors, nurses and orderlies—are moving and compelling." - Angela Meyer, Fancy Goods

"One of the striking things about The Daughters of Mars is how Keneally captures both the vastness of the war and the small detail of it. We discover how wide-reaching it was, how deeply it affected the consciousness of a generation, yet we also discover how gas wreaks havoc on a soldier's lungs, how quickly a wound can go septic and what a dysentery ward smells like in the heat of summer." - Eleanor Limprecht, The Sun Herald

Tom Keneally

Tom Keneally

Tom Keneally won the Booker Prize in 1982 with Schindler's Ark, later made into the Steven Spielberg Academy Award-winning film Schindler's List. His non-fiction includes the memoir Searching For Schindler and Three Famines, an LA Times Book of the Year, and the histories The Commonwealth Of Thieves, The Great Shame and American Scoundrel. His fiction includes Shame and the Captives, The Daughters Of Mars, The Widow And Her Hero (shortlisted for the Prime Minister's Literary Award), An Angel In Australia and Bettany's Book. His novels The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, Gossip from the Forest, and Confederates were all shortlisted for the Booker Prize, while Bring Larks and Heroes and Three Cheers For The Paraclete won the Miles Franklin Award. The People's Train was longlisted for the Miles Franklin Award and shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Prize, South East Asia division.