Two 'Women in War' fiction offerings today, neither of which I have read but both of which I want to...
Having seen the film Schindler's List I haven't read Schindler's Ark but when Thomas Keneally's latest novel The Daughters of Mars arrived I was interested enough to pick it up and start reading and before I knew it I was fifty pages in and very impressed. Thomas Keneally has stayed with the wartime theme, this from the publishers website..
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.
The book is already getting good reviews and at 600 pages will need a substantial investment of time to read but I plan to soldier on.
At this point my sincere thanks to Tony who e mailed this link to a fantastic website, Scarlet Finders, which catalogues a massive amount of material about the history of military nursing. Link clickers beware, if you start looking you might not be able to stop....I couldn't.
It is in some ways unfortunate that both the books I really want to read right now are chunksters, especially given that any day soon the Fiction Uncovered submissions are going to come flying through the door and demand my attention.
Published in 1967, Night Falls on the City by Sarah Gainham racks up 622 pages and is described as 'the lost masterpiece of wartime Vienna,' and having chipped a little way into the book I have no reason to doubt that. This one looks good and was apparently a sensation when first published, top of the New York Times best-seller list for several months. Quoting from a mix of jacket copy, press release and me...
It is Vienna, 1938 and actress Julia Homburg and her politician husband Franz Wedeker embody all the enlightened brilliance of their native city. But Wedeker is Jewish, and Nazi tanks are poised at the border primed for the Anschluss. As Julia's friends rearrange their identities to survive under the new order, Franz must disappear entirely, except it is already too late and Julia hatches an audacious plan to hide him in their own home whilst continuing her own high profile public life 'neath the penetrating gaze of the S.S. and the Nazi Reich.
Kate Mosse offers much more in her fulsome introduction...and I use the word fulsome in the complimentary rather than the derogatory way, her admiration for the book is evident and all sufficient to encourage me to read it, and what more can you ask of a Foreword.
'...one of those rare novels of beauty and scope and ambition that both brings to life a particular moment in history, a particular society, while at the same time rejoicing in the minute details of everyday life, everyday emotions...it is a story about politics and failure of politics; about love and betrayal; about passion for a person, for an idea, for faith...'
When I think of the Anschluss I need a regular dose of relevant reading to overwrite the von Trapps singing Edelweiss and then doing a runner from Vienna under the noses of the Nazis...and the hiding behind the gravestones, and Liesel's gasp of recognition heard by Rolf... and the nun's taking the starter motor out of the car...and the ...STOP STOP. The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal served me well and I suspect Night Falls on the City will do likewise, as Kate Mosse suggests...
'In some ways, Vienna itself is one of the most important and enduring characters: 'the tempered grey stone, the steely sky and shadowed, blue-white now'. Gainham's love for the city, its changing seasons underpins the sense of loss and waste and destruction at the heart of the novel. Our sympathies are also for the city as it is, little by little, corrupted and compromised and destroyed,'
So over to you...have you read either of these??
Any more good war time fiction suggestions either by or about women??