Tom Keneally has drawn an epic tribute to the enormous and often less-acknowledged contributions of women during World War I. In this, his latest novel, seen from the point of view of the nurses who coped with the resulting horrors of battle; no graphic detail is spared in the suffering endured, as well as witnessed, by them.
We are swept from rural Victoria to Melbourne, Cairo, Sydney, London, Paris and Lemnos to the Dardanelles and the killing fields of France in the course of this compelling novel.
Two sisters, Naomi and Sally, begin as sisters only in name. They share little in common and have, up to this time, lived entirely separate existences. Their mother’s terminal illness and unbearable suffering creates a reluctant bond between them with a dark and heavy secret they are forced to share. An escape from the past is offered them by the opportunity to enlist as nurses and they join the war effort. Both are sent to the war zones, first to the Mediterranean, where they are thrown into the thick of the slaughter at Gallipoli and then to the Somme and the even more brutal conflict in France. They survive extreme traumatic events together and come to greatly appreciate, respect and even love, each other. As sisters, in foreign countries, they eventually attain a level of friendship that eluded them at home in Australia.
This book provides a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the realities of war faced by the nurses who tended to the maimed, dying and damaged. It is a testament to the endurance of women who nurse and the harrowing consequences of sending men to war. It is the story of two sisters who find that it is not too late to be real sisters other than in name only.
Tom Keneally has given a real insight into the medical and nursing side of the Great War, and the problems women faced in so many facets of life then. What strikes the modern reader perhaps, is that, even though Australian women had the vote at that time and much earlier than their English counterparts, suffrage made little difference in reality to how they were treated, often as insignificant, when working in a man’s world.
Recommended as an interesting read that shows WW1 from a woman’s point of view and a very human tale of two sisters seeking love and fulfilment in a most turbulent period of world events.