Review: The Desert Nurse

The Desert NurseThe Desert Nurse by Pamela Hart

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An exquisite, evocative, and powerful read!

Reading The Desert Nurse was like learning about the horrors of WWI all over again. I cried tears of pain, exhaustion, and frustration, and yet more tears of hurt and anger.

But I was also overwhelmed with pride, respect, and love.

I’ve heard what it’s like for the men as they wait for battle to engage, of time spent trying not to think of the coming violence, or the inevitable suffering as they or their friends face pain, maiming, and death.

But this story, so long overdue, tells what it was like for the women – not the women at home, but the nurses right behind the front line as they try not to think of the intense surgery to come, for the overwhelming numbers of dead and dying, for the men they know they can do little or nothing for, and for the hope they can save more than they lose when the fighting starts.

From the opening scene, filled with a concise and unadulterated reality of the sexism women faced then (and many still face now), Hart demonstrates her excellent power over words. She sweeps you from Victoria Barracks in Sydney to Heliopolis Palace in Cairo with a single line of text, saving everything for the front line where she immerses you in Evelyn’s war: one-hundred-plus non-stop pages of it.

And still they came, stretcher after stretcher, shrapnel wounds and gunshot wounds and bayonet wounds, broken ankles which had to be set and pinned, and, worst of all, amputations.

Try not to feel Evelyn’s exhaustion with her, her elation, her suffering; her brave face and her putting aside of emotion to deal with literal life and death. Try not to experience an assault on your senses.

As usual, Hart’s men are deep, complex, yet retain their own strength and masculinity. The lives of soldiers are full of small unrecognized acts of bravery, and sometimes the greatest of these aren’t celebrated publicly. Linus’s rescue attempt is one such example and honours so many men and women.

And I still can’t read the eleventh of the eleventh ending without tears springing to my eyes like I’m really there.

An outstandingly gorgeous story that fills a giant hole in our history; schools would do well to include it on their curricula.

View all my reviews

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