#aww2020 · 2020 Reviews · book bingo · historical fiction · World War I

#Book Bingo 2020 Round 11: ‘Set in an era you’d love to travel back in time to’- The Desert Nurse by Pamela Hart

Book Bingo 2020 is a collaboration challenge I am completing for the third year with my favourite bloggers, Theresa Smith Writes and The Book Muse. On the second Saturday of each month, beginning on Saturday 11th January 2020, Theresa, Ashleigh and I will complete a book review post, outlining our respective bingo card entries. The Book Bingo 2020 card contains a total of 12 squares, which we will complete over the course of the year, with the aim to complete the whole card by December. To keep things interesting for ourselves and those following along with us, the choice of bingo square to be covered will be entirely down to us, there is no crossover – that is planned anyway! We invite you to join us in this fun book related challenge, by linking your bingo card entries in the comments section of this post, tagging us on social media, posting in Page by Page Book Club with Theresa Smith Writes  or by visiting our blogs The Book Muse and Theresa Smith Writes.


Amid the Australian Army hospitals of World War I Egypt, two deeply determined individuals find the resilience of their love tested to its limits

It’s 1911, and 21-year-old Evelyn Northey desperately wants to become a doctor. Her father forbids it, withholding the inheritance that would allow her to attend university. At the outbreak of World War I, Evelyn disobeys her father, enlisting as an army nurse bound for Egypt and the disastrous Gallipoli campaign.

Under the blazing desert sun, Evelyn develops feelings for polio survivor Dr William Brent, who believes his disability makes him unfit to marry. For Evelyn, still pursuing her goal of studying medicine, a man has no place in her future. For two such self-reliant people, relying on someone else for happiness may be the hardest challenge of all.

From the casualty tents, fever wards and operating theatres; through the streets of Cairo during Ramadan; to the parched desert and the grim realities of war, Pamela Hart, author of THE WAR BRIDE, tells the heart-wrenching story of four years that changed the world forever.

Review:

Released in 2018 by Hachette Australia, The Desert Nurse is a rich historical showpiece that presents a vivid historical portrait of WWI, outlining the life of nurses on the front line and a contentious romance. The Desert Nurse is both heartbreaking and revealing, exposing a time when enterprising women fought to gain a place in history. All praise directed to The Desert Nurse is warranted, it is a noteworthy tale.

The Desert Nurse regales the compelling life story of Evelyn Northey, an intelligent and determined woman, who longs for a career in the medical field. When the First World War breaks out, Evelyn deliberately goes against her father’s wishes and she signs up to become a nurse, where she is stationed in the dangerous locale of Egypt. It is in Egypt where Evelyn becomes directly involved in one of the worst campaigns in war history, Gallipoli. Evelyn is dedicated to her calling as an army nurse, but when she crosses paths with a doctor named William Brent, she is drawn to this hardworking medic and polio survivor. But William’s personal issues in regards to his disability seem to cloud his feelings for Evelyn. While Evelyn grapples with making a commitment to marry, when all she wants in life is to become a doctor. Evelyn doesn’t think she can both marry and gain a career as a doctor. These two very individual and spirited souls devote everything they have to the war cause, but can they take a chance on love?

Pamela Hart is without a doubt one of my favourite Australian novelists. It did strike me as odd that I had a copy of Hart’s 2018 release languishing on my shelves for far too long. I have enjoyed each and every previous novel written by Hart. Pamela Hart is a consistent author who never fails to impress me and this was very much the case with The Desert Nurse. Yet again Pamela Hart delivered a tale with a winning combination of wonderful characters, a sublime setting, a fascinating time period and a historically accurate plotline. I have every respect for this author and her writing.

I really warmed to Evelyn Northey. I was immediately struck by her predicament and I detested her father – what a man! However, as much as Evelyn’s father is unnecessary and cruel, Hart provides an accurate depiction of the beliefs men of the same social standing as Evelyn’s father would have endorsed during this time. Although it is frustrating and heartbreaking, Evelyn’s life story highlights the true sacrifice, hard work and determination these women living on the edges of society faced when trying to rise above societal expectations. I did a little cheer when Evelyn defied her father and signed up for duty as an army nurse. There is no questioning Evelyn’s spirit, bravery and can-do attitude. There was no stopping her! I admired Evelyn very much and it was a joy to be a part of her exhaustive, but rewarding story.

Hart marries her leads up well. In William Brent we have a genuine nice guy, with some personal hang ups to deal with. When our leads cross paths, the romance slowly flourishes. There are plenty of will they/won’t they moments and roadblocks to this relationship developing. I think Hart did an excellent job of her characterisation of these two core protagonists in light of the situations they both faced. Hart also introduced a well-drawn cast of supporting characters, who scaffold this novel further. Although frustrating at times, the romance side of things was handled well within the context of war and the personal issues plaguing the leads.

I have a weakness for books set in the Great War era. I was definitely drawn to this tale of life during the First World War, a time period I gravitate towards again and again. Pamela Hart provides a very authentic representation of this world event. In addition, the language, societal expectations, morals, prejudices, gender relations and acts of romance appeared to be a more than satisfactory reflection of era.

The Desert Nurse is just magnificent. It is hard not to be seduced by the exotic beauty of Egypt, the central location of Hart’s novel. I felt the intense heat, the cold nights, the wind and danger of this well drawn locale. Hart really exposes her reader to life as a true and serving front line nurse. We are privy to a great deal, especially the damaging impact of war. Everything from the physical and mental injuries is relayed, along with the lack of medical staff and resources. The long hours of standing and saving life after life is revealed, which makes your heart sink. I gained so much insight from this fictional narrative and it provided me with a deeper appreciation of the fighting spirit of our toiling ancestors. We truly cannot thank them enough for their contribution to the war effort.

After plenty of hard times, personal agonies, individual gains and realisations, The Desert Nurse concludes its very eventful journey. The Desert Nurse is a book that will leave you stained and changed from the experience of reading it. Another simply remarkable tale from Pamela Hart.

***** 5 stars

The Desert Nurse by Pamela Hart was published on 10th July 2018 by Hachette Australia. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

To learn more about the author of The Desert Nurse, Pamela Hart, visit here.

The Desert Nurse is book #118 the 2020 Australian Women Writers Challenge

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