Author: Geraldine Brooks
Length: 273 pages
Published in: 2005
Genre: fiction; spoof, though more spin-off
Source: personal collection
Reason(s) for Reading: 1) I have loved all of Geraldine Brooks’ other books; 2) Personal Collection Resolution 2012
Summary (from Goodreads):
As the North reels under a series of unexpected defeats during the dark first year of the war, one man leaves behind his family to aid the Union cause. His experiences will utterly change his marriage and challenge his most ardently held beliefs. Riveting and elegant as it is meticulously researched, March is an extraordinary novel woven out of the lore of American history.
From Louisa May Alcott’s beloved classic Little Women, Geraldine Brooks has taken the character of the absent father, March, who has gone off to war, leaving his wife and daughters to make do in mean times. To evoke him, Brooks turned to the journals and letters of Bronson Alcott, Louisa May’s father,a friend and confidant of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. In her telling, March emerges as an idealistic chaplain in the little known backwaters of a war that will test his faith in himself and in the Union cause as he learns that his side, too, is capable of acts of barbarism and racism. As he recovers from a near mortal illness, he must reassemble his shattered mind and body and find a way to reconnect with a wife and daughters who have no idea of the ordeals he has been through.
Spanning the vibrant intellectual world of Concord and the sensuous antebellum South, March adds adult resonance to Alcott’s optimistic children’s tale to portray the moral complexity of war, and a marriage tested by the demands of extreme idealism, and by a dangerous and illicit attraction
My Thoughts: I was pleasantly surprised with this story. At the beginning, I wasn’t sure if I’d like a book that was so much more geared towards adults than children. But, as was probably the true case for many a family, the men at war had a much harsher story to tell than what they might want their wives and children to know.
As the summary said, this story looks at Mr. March’s life during his time in the army, while his daughters lives out Little Women at home. In that sense, this is a spin-off, not really a spoof, of that American classic. With some flashbacks, we read of March before he met Marmee and their early life together. I was a little surprised by some of the choices Brooks made for the characters–for instance, how the Marches were once quite wealthy, or the entire family being vegan. Later in the book, Marmee OS the narrator, when she goes to D.C. to tend to March in the hospital. I was more interested in the portion from March’s perspective, because it was more telling of parts of the US during the Civil War. All in all, I think Brooks did a great job telling the story of a very minor character in a beloved American novel.
“If a man is to lose his fortune, it is a good thing if he were poor before he acquired it, for poverty requires aptitude.” (p113)
“‘We do not have ideas. The idea has us…and drives us into the arena to fight for it like gladiators, who combat whether they will or no.’” (p124)