20-minute audio interview
“Poignant . . . masterly . . . epic . . . [Keneally] has rescued forgotten heroines from obscurity
THE DAUGHTERS OF MARS (Atria Books, August 2013), by beloved and internationally bestselling author Thomas Keneally offers an intimate look at war and its personal costs.
Much as he did with his Booker Prize-winning SCHINDLER’S LIST, this masterful storyteller uses the facts of history as the framework on which to build a deeply moving, often surprising, account of a world torn asunder and teetering on the cusp of inexorable change.
In writing this stirring chronicle of two Australian sisters whose destinies are altered forever by the brutality of the First World War, Keneally has drawn on actual wartime diaries kept by nurses, giving his narrative a richly detailed sense of time and place.
In this intimate conversation with Authorlinkabout his latest book, Tom talks of how women have a way of holding things together while the world falls apart; of how they have the ability to mend the ruination that men are so good at creating. He also admits that his first drafts–indeed every writer’s first draft–are quite ordinary. It is only in editing and polishing that the story emerges. He encourages writers to just “start writing. Don’t let the thought that you can’t write stop you from being published.” [It took Stephen Spielberg ten years to produce the movie from the book, Schindler’s List, Tom told us.]
In THE DAUGHTERS OF MARS, Sally and Naomi Durance grew up on an isolated farm in Australia’s Macleay Valley, but the sisters have grown apart with the passage of time and the accruing of small resentments. They are both nurses, but their careers have diverged: Naomi has moved to a more urbane life in Sydney, while Sally has stayed behind, working as a district nurse in the local hospital. But a tragic event—their mother’s painful death from cancer—will bring the sisters together once more, uniting them in a dark secret. Soon after, the outbreak of war will prove another bond, as Sally and Naomi independently decide to lend their medical skills to the war effort and find themselves embarking together on a journey to the other side of the world.
Joining a corps of nurses and other medical personnel aboard the Archimedes, the Durance sisters are shipped to Egypt and the Mediterranean war zone, where they are thrown abruptly into the conflagration. Ministering to the horrifically wounded survivors of the disastrous campaign at Gallipoli, Sally, Naomi, and the other nurses try to maintain some semblance of sanity while confronted with unimaginable carnage. They will face their own peril, too, as the Archimedes goes down. Still, the relentless realities of war are tempered by the friendships the girls forge, as well as the tenuous promise of romance, albeit always shadowed by the prospect of loss.
As the war progresses, Sally and Naomi will be shipped to the Western Front, meeting people unlike any they knew in Australia, and witnessing new horrors against the surreal backdrop of Europe’s splendor. Each will become romantically involved with an exceptional man, one a Quaker, one an artist. But for the Durance girls, their fellow nurses, and the soldiers they serve, courage and endurance become reluctant watchwords, death their constant companion.
Panoramic in its uncompromising vision of war, THE DAUGHTERS OF MARS “may be the best novel of Keneally’s career” (The Spectator, UK). “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,” says A.N. Wilson, calling this careerdefining work “an altogether towering achievement.”
About the Author
Thomas Keneally began his writing career in 1964 and has published twenty-five novels, including Schindler’s List, which won the Booker Prize in 1982, The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, Confederates, and Gossip from the Forest, all of which were shortlisted for the Booker Prize. He has also written several works of non-fiction, including his boyhood memoir Homebush Boy, The Commonwealth of Thieves, and Searching for Schindler. He lives in Sydney, Australia.
International praise for The Daughters of Mars
“Magnificent… a stunning performance, full of suspense, searing particulars, and deep emotion.… The huge talents of Thomas Keneally are everywhere on display.”
“May be the best novel of Keneally’s career… a book that aims for, and achieves, real grandeur.”
“Superbly exciting to read….. An unmissable, unforgettable tribute.”
“Not only is The Daughters of Mars one of the most ambitious novels in a career that stretches back to 1964, but it might even be the best… The result is something few other authors
“A big and brutal book, a new prism through which to think about World War I…breathtaking…magnificent and almost magical.”
“A triumphant novel.”
“Along with a Tolstoyan ability to describe the horrors of battle, this amazing book also has an extraordinary intimacy… an altogether towering achievement.”