Book Review: March by Geraldine Brooks

marchMarch by Geraldine Brooks

As the North reels under a series of unexpected defeats during the dark first year of the American Civil 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 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 Brooks’ 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.

In “Little Women”, the father figure is away for much of the story. This is Brooks’ attempt to tell his story of his time away from the family during the American Civil War.

I dont know Little Women well enough to know how well Brooks ties the story in, and whether March’s (and Mamie’s) characters stack up against the previous books. However, March and the Civil War are the centre of the book, and Brooks pulls forward the problems of Slavery, the treatment of the slaves (and those wanting to free them) but the rebels and army who didnt want the Status Quo changing. It’s the beatings, the cruelty, the killings etc – this makes the book sound more graphic than it is and whilst these are brought up, are not the centre of the story.

In summary: good book as a historical fiction book set during the American Civil War which is a reasonable addition to the “Little Women” canon.

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