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March

A book by Geraldine Brooks

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(3.5)A father's commitment to his "Little Women"

  • Mar 7, 2005
Rating:
+3
Taking a page from the classic Little Women, Brooks considers the possible fate of Mr. March, the father from Louisa May Alcott's novel, gone to the Civil War while his dutiful family waits behind. In difficult financial straights since an injudicious investment, March's family has adapted to their reduced fortunes, valuing the fruits of the mind over material possessions, all convinced "that the greater part of a man's duty consists in abstaining from much that he is in the habit of consuming."

A learned man who has traveled the country in his youth, Mr. March is later content to raise his four daughters in a pastoral landscape in Concord, Connecticut, with esteemed neighbors and fellow philosophers Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. For her part, Mrs. Marsh (Marmee) is an abolitionist in spirit and action, while many northerners are still mired in discussions about the morality of slavery. A long-time member of the Underground Railroad, Marmee is fondest of her husband's nature when he supports her anti-slavery convictions with equal fervor.

Although older than most Union soldiers, Marsh joins the war effort as a chaplain. Broad-minded to a fault, March extends comfort to the injured and dying, torn by the violence around him and the extreme youth of soldiers on both sides. While Marsh believes the war is motivated by the noble effort to free the slaves, he is not oblivious to other realities involved and many of the Union soldiers are there by conscription.

The dialog is perfect, relative to the era and prone to prodigious verbiage. Nor is March suffering from a lack of moral persuasion, so conscience-riddled as to be a bit of a bore, rich in character if not in goods. However, excessive wordiness is also the flaw in this novel, an exercise in moral demagoguery that is appropriate to the age, but often tedious and lacking in passion. One wants March (and his beloved Marmee for that matter) to be a bit more human. For every flawed decision March agonizes over, he suffers equal self-flagellation. Even after a nearly mortal illness, March perseveres, pulling himself together lest his family be sullied by his faults.

On the positive side, the naive beliefs of the abolitionists are examined, revealing the barbarism and sadism that exist in any war. There is profit to be made, exploitation of the unfortunate and greed in excess, regardless of noble intent. Prejudice is not constrained by geography, righteousness a flagrant cloak, frequently hiding the truth of war.

Most of the novel is in first-person perspective, but final chapters are from other viewpoints, Mrs. March and the ex-slave, Grace Clement, where the novel finally comes to life. If only the entire book offered this occasional change of perspective. Instead, March carries the burden of the plot; unfortunately, it is the reader's burden as well. Brooks is an excellent writer, with the potential to enliven historical perspective. In future novels, I hope the author's characters are allowed to breathe humanity into the facts that cost the blood of thousands. Luan Gaines/ 2005.

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More March: A Novel reviews
review by . April 03, 2013
Historical fiction of the highest caliber, thoroughly researched and truly engaging.
As a reader and a reviewer I will confess that I was biased against the genre of historical fiction, for my image or conveyance of it was of a gothic castle, a beautiful damsel in distress and a clichéd rugged knight riding on a powerful steed. I somehow incorrectly equated it to be on the same level to romance fiction Yes, I genuinely had those thoughts, despite the fact there is a laundry list of reputable historical fiction writers out there who have given the genre a serious literary …
review by . September 30, 2013
    Ask me what book influenced my life the most, and I'll answer unhesitatingly: Lousia May Alcott's Little Women.  I got it for Christmas when I was in Grade Two, and began reading it immediately--but because I wasn't a very good reader it took me until April to finish it.      And then I re-read again.  And again.  And again.      Jo was my heroine for years, and the family's high-minded Abolitionist politics formed …
review by . July 21, 2009
March, historical fiction by Pulitzer Prize-winning Geraldine Brooks, is the story of Mr. March (no first name ever given), Little Women's dad,  while he's off serving in the Civil War. This is definitely NOT a feel-good book, but certainly true to what I think of the real Branson Alcott (a self-serving guy who had more good women around him than he deserved).   To those who do not belong to the Louisa May Alcott cult, a little background might be necessary. During the novel Little …
review by . August 11, 2007
March is told largely in the words of Mr. March, father of all those "little women," and it encompasses the year that he spent as a Union chaplain during the early part of the Civil War. Ever the idealist, one who at times refused to recognize the demands of the real world or to compromise his principles in order to better get along with others, March quickly managed to get on the bad side of both the men to whom he hoped to minister and that of his superior officers. As so often happens during …
review by . January 23, 2007
Really 4.5 stars. Brooks wrote an eloquent narravtive about a man who barely sunk into our consiousness. For the March women to be so mindful and strong, they had to influnced by not only a like mother, but also a father who valued the same indepedence for women.     I am not a Civil War expert by any stretch - infact, that aspect almost kept me from reading this book. The War Between the States was was anything but civil - it was brutal and cruel and ghastly bloody on all sides …
review by . February 28, 2006
When I was growing up, I loved Louisa May Alcott and read everything I could get my hands on by her. Later, through reading biographies, I learned more about her life and how actually radical and forward thinking she was for her time. In March, Geraldine Brooks tells the story of the father of the Little Women series of books. In the Louisa May Alcott books, Mr. March is a shadowy character, missing through most of Little Women, and a wise teacher and grandfather in Little Men and Jo's Boys. However, …
About the reviewer
Luan Gaines ()
Ranked #86
An artist/writer, I have traveled the world, walked on the moon and learned the complicated language of humanity, the enormity of the universe... all through the written word. My first passport was a … more
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Starred Review. Brooks's luminous second novel, after 2001's acclaimedYear of Wonders, imagines the Civil War experiences of Mr. March, the absent father in Louisa May Alcott'sLittle Women. An idealistic Concord cleric, March becomes a Union chaplain and later finds himself assigned to be a teacher on a cotton plantation that employs freed slaves, or "contraband." His narrative begins with cheerful letters home, but March gradually reveals to the reader what he does not to his family: the cruelty and racism of Northern and Southern soldiers, the violence and suffering he is powerless to prevent and his reunion with Grace, a beautiful, educated slave whom he met years earlier as a Connecticut peddler to the plantations. In between, we learn of March's earlier life: his whirlwind courtship of quick-tempered Marmee, his friendship with Emerson and Thoreau and the surprising cause of his family's genteel poverty. When a Confederate attack on the contraband farm lands March in a Washington hospital, sick with fever and guilt, the first-person narrative switches to Marmee, who describes a different version of the years past and an agonized reaction to the truth she uncovers about her husband's life. Brooks, who based the character of March on Alcott's transcendentalist father, Bronson, relies heavily on primary sources for both the Concord and wartime scenes; her characters speak with a convincing 19th-century formality, yet the narrative is ...
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Details

ISBN-10: 0143036661
ISBN-13: 978-0143036661
Author: Geraldine Brooks
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Penguin
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