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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.

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.


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 The breadth and accretion of all this is dazzling, matched - and sometimes superseded - by the perfection of the intimate gestures and internal moments through which he vivifies his young women.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)

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Formats & editions

  • Paperback


    June 3, 2013

    Vintage Australia

    608 pages

    RRP $19.99

    Online retailers

    • Abbey's Bookshop
    • Angus & Robertson Bookworld
    • Booktopia
    • Boomerang Books
    • Collins Booksellers
    • Dymocks
    • Books Kinokuniya
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    • QBD
    • Readings
    • Robinsons Bookshop

    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

  • EBook


    June 1, 2012

    RHA eBooks Adult

    608 pages

    RRP $19.99

    Online retailers

    • Amazon Kindle
    • Booktopia
    • eBooks
    • Google Play
    • iBooks
    • Kobo

    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

Also by Tom Keneally

The Unmourned
The Soldier's Curse
Crimes of the Father
Napoleon's Last Island
The Place at Whitton
A Country Too Far: Teacher's Edition
The Great Australian Writers' Collection 2013
Shame and the Captives
A Country Too Far
Bring Larks and Heroes:Text Classics
Three Famines
The People's Train
Searching For Schindler
Three Cheers For The Paraclete
The Widow And Her Hero
The Commonwealth Of Thieves
Roos In Shoes
The Tyrant's Novel
An Angel In Australia
American Scoundrel
Bettany's Book
The Great Shame