Title: The Desert Nurse
Author: Pamela Hart
I’m a big fan of Pamela Hart’s vivid and intelligent historical romances. They give me everything I want in a book – drama, heartache, struggle, triumph, and an enthralling glimpse into the past that teaches me something I did not know. The Desert Nurse is set mainly in Egypt during the World War 1, and tells the story of a young woman named Evelyn Northey who is determined to become a doctor, despite all the obstacles in her way.
Her father is a doctor himself, but does not believe that women should be anything but wives and mothers. He refuses to allow Evelyn the money to go to university to study medicine, and withholds her mother’s inheritance until she turns thirty or is married.
When war breaks out, Evelyn disobeys her father and enlists as a nurse bound for Egypt. She makes friends with the other nurses and doctors, and works herself to exhaustion caring for the wounded soldiers of the disastrous Gallipoli conflict.
The romantic hero of this story is Dr William Brent, who survived polio but was left with a weak leg. Unable to fight, he too works tirelessly to save lives and mend shattered bodies. He and Evelyn are strongly drawn to each other, sharing high ideals of compassion, sympathy and determination.
Evelyn has sworn never to marry, however, knowing that a husband and children would prevent her from achieving her dream of becoming a doctor. William, meanwhile, fears being a burden. Besides, there is no time for love. Men are fighting and dying in horrible numbers, and at times it seems as if the war will never end.
Evelyn and William’s love story is engaging and heart-warming as they struggle to find a way to be together, but for me the real strength of this novel is how it illuminates the lives of the nurses and doctors during the Anzac campaign.
It is clear that Pamela Hart has done massive amounts of research, but it is woven so lightly and deftly through the book that the cracking pace is never compromised. I truly felt as if I was hearing the story of a young nurse in the Egyptian war zone, struggling to help in any way she could, and trying to find a way to make her dreams come true.
It’s the kind of book that leaves you with a big lump in the throat, helped by having one of the best last lines I’ve ever read.