Set in Australia in the era between the first and second world wars, the sisters enroll in a training program for nurses in the hopes of escaping their domineering mother. As they settle into the routines and hardships of hospital life they meet people from all walks of life.
The sisters are challenged to push the boundaries that confine women in that time, and they all have different goals in mind. One wants badly to be a doctor, which was not a possibility for that time, another just wants to meet the right man and be a wife. The third sister wants to do something meaningful with her life and the fourth simply wants to be able to support herself.
McCullough seamlessly weaves in information about the history of nurse’s training in Australia and the development of modern pathology. Bittersweet is both a fascinating exploration of the bonds between sisters and a fine historical novel.