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  • Published: 19 March 2018
  • ISBN: 9780143790822
  • Imprint: Penguin
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 608
  • RRP: $22.99

The Daughters of Mars

The Tom Keneally Collection

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.

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.

  • Published: 19 March 2018
  • ISBN: 9780143790822
  • Imprint: Penguin
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 608
  • RRP: $22.99

About the author

Tom Keneally

Thomas Keneally was born in 1935 and his first novel was published in 1964. Since then he has written a considerable number of novels and non-fiction works. His novels include The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, Schindler's List and The People's Train. He has won the Miles Franklin Award, the Booker Prize, the Los Angeles Times Prize, the Mondello International Prize and has been made a Literary Lion of the New York Public Library, a Fellow of the American Academy, recipient of the University of California gold medal, and is now the subject of a 55 cent Australian stamp.

He has held various academic posts in the United States, but lives in Sydney.

Also by Tom Keneally

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Praise for The Daughters of Mars

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 beautifully...as 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.)...an 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

Powerful work.

Andrew Riemer, The Sydney Morning Herald

Reading can make you a bit anti-social sometimes. I didn't want to leave the house! Two sisters go off to the war to end all wars as nurses. They are smart and intelligent but nothing prepares them for Egypt and France. Keneally has written a superb account of war from the perspective of voluntary nurses. But more than that it is about the nature of Australians, although it is set mostly out of Australia the landscape is always there. Keneally at his very best.

Chris Page, Pages and Pages

The skill of Tom Keneally is that he writes with a large scope on matters from the Irish diaspora to convict life in Australia, the Holocaust and now World War I, but his stories are engagingly intimate.

Julie Thomson, Daily Telegraph, Sydney

Keneally's impeccable research brings the past and the nurses, their patients and military staff to life in a powerful, unforgettable novel from a popular Australian writer.

Jean Ferguson, Illawarra Mercury

It's no surprise that war remains a predominant literary lure for novelists, but few write about it with such eloquence and insight as Australia's Tom Keneally. The Daughters of Mars is an important anti-war novel from a writer as prolific as he peerless.

Weekend Gold Coast Bulletin

Not surprising in the work of such a prolific, accomplished and successful novelist, Keneally's prose is smooth and uncluttered. Keneally's command of the craft of historical fiction is such that he makes what he does seem just about effortless.

Simon Caterson, The Saturday Age

Polished and effortlessly compelling.

MX Melbourne

Sprawling in narrative shape and old-fashioned in style, The Daughters of Mars is superbly detailed, richly evocative and deeply satisfying read...

Michelle Thomas, South Coast Register, Nowra

This is a book that deserves to sit with the very best of the many books on that subject [First World War], including All Quiet on the Western Front and Birdsong. It's that good and that powerful...Along the way there are remarkable friendships, romantic encounters and a wealth of often quite graphic medical encounters. It's beautifully researched and you quickly become taken up in the story. I'm not a huge fan of the hospital drama genre but even I was taken in. It's poignant and moving and is one of those endings that you will just want to talk about with someone else who has read the book. Get a friend to read it at the same time, because you will want to take about the ending. Trust me.

The Book Bag

In The Daughters of Mars, he attempts a narrative on the grand scale about the First World War. You might think yet another novel in this conflict would be superflous, but Keneally's magic makes his shop-worn subject seem fresh. Keneally conjurs up a nightmare world of dotty logic worth of Joseph Heller's Catch-22, simply by describing faithfully some of the things that really happened. There will be a score of films to mark the First World War's centenary in two years' time. How wonderful it would be if Spielberg would return to Keneally's work and film this as a distaff companion to Saving Private Ryan. It would have to be a remarkable film to do justice to the breadth, originality and beauty of this book. Over and over again, a brief but brilliant phrase turns a statistic into a real person and wrings compassion from you.

Jake Kerridge, Sunday Express

Thomas Keneally brilliantly returns to form with his superbly involving The Daughters of Mars.

Catherine Taylor, The Sunday Telegraph (UK)

It is the supreme tragedy of this brilliant, humane novel that such intimacy is forged out of the profoundest suffering.

James Kidd, South China Morning Post

Inspired by the letters and journals of Australian nurses, this is wonderfully – but never obtrusively – researched. It is superbly exciting to read; one expects no less from the author of Schindler’s Ark. An unmissable, unforgettable tribute

The Times

While the story has epic dimensions, it stays close to these "daughters of mars" and leaves us worrying how peace will treat them. He has rescued forgotten heroines from obscurrity and briefly placed them centre stage.

Alan Riding, The New York Times Book Review

Awards & recognition

Colin Roderick Award

Winner  •  2013  •  Colin Roderick Award