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A book by Geraldine Brooks

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Papa March Becomes Human in this Book

  • Feb 28, 2006
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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, he is never really fleshed out, but is always portrayed as a sort of super human good and wise man who always knows and does what is right.

This book gives us a more three-dimensional picure, weaving his backstory into a series of letters from Peter March to his wife and family while he serves as a chaplain during the Civil War, and the flashbacks that the letters inspire in his mind. During the war, he is forced to examine aspects of himself that most people would rather not see. Although he has convinced himself that his overlying motives are always for good, he comes to realize that he has been self-serving and has been ignorant of the needs of his wife and daughters. Through this, we learn that he and the sainted Marmee have not had the harmonious relationship depicted in the Little Women series, but that their marriage, like that of any other successful marriage, has high points and low points. We also learn that Peter March, himself, is largely responsible for the loss of the family's money through his naivete and his ill-considered faith in the abolitionist John Brown.

March has to confront his idealistic notions and realize that problems cannot always be solved as neatly as he thinks. Through flashbacks to his early adulthood, Brooks shows us the brutality of slavery, and in a most personal way, makes him responsible for the cruel beating of a female slave to whom he is attracted. He also comes face to face with the fact that most people fighting on the Union side of the Civil War are not fighting against the instituion of slavery, but are fighting for baser reasons.

About two thirds of the way through the book, the viewpoint shifts to that of Marmee, who has rushed to her husband's side after learning of his illness. Through his delirious mumblings and through sorting through his belongings, she starts to question her husband's faithfulness and to question her allegiance to him. Her questions are never totally resolved in this book, leaving her and March to make their way back home and pick up the pieces of their lives as though everything were the same as it had been before he left for the war.

I think that if Louisa May Alcott were alive today, this is a book that she could have written, and I think she would approve of what Brooks has done. Although the book does not require familiarity with Little Women, I think such familiarity would enhance the reader's enjoyment of this book. I found it hard to put down, and when I was done I wanted to run and drag my copy of Little Women out of storage so I could read it again with my newfound knowledge of the father's backstory.

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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 . March 07, 2005
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." …
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Dindy Robinson ()
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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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ISBN-10: 0143036661
ISBN-13: 978-0143036661
Author: Geraldine Brooks
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Penguin
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