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March by Geraldine Brooks

March (original 2005; edition 2005)

by Geraldine Brooks (Author)

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4,715None995 (3.78)468
Authors:Geraldine Brooks (Author)
Info:Pymble, N.S.W. : Fourth Estate, 2005.
Collections:Your library, Read 2012
Tags:adult fiction, female author, Australian author, American Civil War

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March by Geraldine Brooks (2005)


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I didn't realize this was a new spin on Little Women until I picked up the book. While I loved the 1994 Little Women movie, I didn't actually read Louisa May Alcott's book until I was an adult and by that point I found it far too goody-goody and moralizing. So, I don't think I would have picked up this book, if not for the fact that I loved Geraldine Brooks' People of the Book so much.

Instead of following the March girl's lives as they wait for their father's return from the Civil War, the story is told from the point of view of Robert March as he tries to minister to the troops and help emancipate and educate slaves. The story explores the brutality of war, the racism of the North in its approach to freeing blacks, and the impact the war has on March's physical and mental state. In the same way that Alcott based the Little Women on her real-life sisters, Brooks based Robert March on Alcott's father, who was a radical liberal. Mr. Alcott was firmly for Emancipation and was a vegetarian, who founded a Utopian commune that failed, because its inhabitants refused to kill the infestation of worms invading its apple crops.

Brooks is a wonderful writer. The style is clear and vivid in its portrayal of the Civil War South. And though the story is far more brutal, bloody, and graphic than the children's book it's based on, Brooks managed to capture the thread of that moralizing tone, which was just under the surface of every description, so that the novel felt as though it fit neatly within the fictional realm of Little Women.

One of the things that fascinated me about the novel and kept me interested was the ways in which Robert March lied in his letters home to his wife and his Little Women. It's understandable that he would not want to worry them with the true turmoils of war and it sets up and interesting duality between his home life and the life he now lives on the battlefield.

I don't know how to talk about this book without talking about bits from the ending, so WARNING: spoilers ahead.

Spoiler 1 — At the end of the novel, when March is on his sickbed and nearing death, the POV switches to his wife and we see how Robert misunderstood her feeling and how she misunderstood his. It's a wonderful moment (in literature, but hard on the characters) that shows just how easy it is to mistake people and how you can love and know someone for years and not really understand them.

Spoiler 2 — Throughout the story, I was a bit annoyed by Robert March and his wife, both of whom were avidly for Emancipation to the point of being almost too noble, too good, coming across as great white heroes of the Civil War. This was especially evident in the way March feels about one slave he meets named Grace, who has been educated and who he makes into a symbol for what the "Negro" can become.

At the end of the story, when March is wracked with guilt and insists on finding someway to make himself useful to Grace, she turns him down. She tells him that she doesn't need him, that the blacks need to be able to take care of themselves, and that the best thing he can do is to go home and preach emancipation and equality to other white people.

I can't even tell you how relieved I was to see this scene presented and it was that moment that really brought me from liking this novel to loving it. ( )
5 vote andreablythe | Mar 21, 2014 |
Book Description: "As the North reels under a series of unexpected defeats during the dark first year of the 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. From Louisa May Alcott's beloved classic, Little Women, Geraldine Brooks has taken the character of the absent father, Mr. March, who has gone off to war, leaving his wife and daughters to make do in mean times. From vibrant New England to the sensuous antebellum South, March adds adult resonance to Alcott's optimistic children's novel. A lushly written, wholly original tale steeped in the details of another time, March secures Geraldine Brooks's placed as a renowned author of historical fiction."

What an excellent story! While I definitely have my gripes about this one, overall it was just great.

Right around page 40, I stopped reading, closed the book, and wrote the following: "I must decide if I want to go on with the story. If I do, it will forever taint the innocent and peaceful joy that comes from enjoying, Little Women, one of my favorite stories." Whew! I didn't have a clue how right on I was---but I decided to keep reading and am so glad I did!

I absolutely loved the character of March---truly a good and kind man who really did love his family and fellow man, putting their best interests before his own. One scene where I didn't agree with him, but still respected him, was on the Canning plantation when he first has words with Canning about the treatment of the Negro workers. These scenes were eye-opening. March seemed starry-eyed and ignorant and it was easy for me to sympathize with Canning's point of view---especially after finishing the story and seeing that he was right to take some of the actions that he did.

Also loved how Brooks weaved in some of the other historical figures of the day. Shout out to Thoreau---yay! And Hawthorne---even better!

I did NOT like the way Marmee was portrayed. Not one bit. This fiery-tempered, self-pitying Marmee is not the same that Alcott described. I've been through a lot of the same things this Marmee had---much worse, in fact---and I still couldn't sympathize with her unrelenting self-pity. Brooks purposefully made this endearing character so unlikeable---why? A read through her afterword might hold the clue, but it seems she may have had her own ax to grind and used Marmee to do it. Not impressed. Not one bit.

Also, I don't like that Brooks made "Marmee" the nickname that everyone had used for her since childhood. Marmee was the daughters' name for their mama---why would they call her by her first name but use "father" for their dad? I think Brooks should have left that one alone, as well.

It will be awhile before I can read my beloved classic again---I don't want the screwy fake Marmee character messing up the story for me. However, I hope I will remember this excellent portrait of Mr. March and think of him in a deeper way when he's mentioned in Little Women.

I'll keep this one in my pc for now. ( )
  lostinavalonOR | Feb 25, 2014 |
Brooks' Civil War 'March.': Inspired by Louisa May Alcott's LITTLE WOMEN, in her compelling second novel, Pulitzer-Prize winning novelist Geraldine Brooks (YEAR OF WONDERS), imagines the Civil War experiences of Mr. March, the absent father in LITTLE WOMEN. (In Alcott's novel, the March girls receive a letter from their father: "little was said of the hardships endured, the dangers faced, or the homesickness conquered," Alcott writes about the letter; "it was a cheerful, hopeful letter full of lively descriptions.") Brooks' extraordinary novel reveals the hardship, danger and homesickness inherent to war and the silence typically surrounding the details of war. In writing to his wife Marmee, Brooks' protagonist says that he never promised her he would write the truth of the war around him, but instead writes about his longing for home and his four beautiful daughters. From his narrative, we learn that March enlists in the army as an idealistic Concord clergyman and abolitionist, influenced by his contemporaries, Thoreau, Emerson, and John Brown. A year later, he finds himself a changed man, waking every day in a sweat, in a condition of uncertainty: "One day, I hope to go back. To my wife, to my girls, but also to the man of moral certainty that I was that day, that innocent man, who knew with such clear confidence exactly what it was that he was meant to do" (p. 184). Chronologically, Brooks' novel follows March through four major events in his life. At age 19, when he was an impoverished Yankee peddler, March was first introduced to the life of a Virginia slaveholder and to Grace, the beautiful slave who gave him his first kiss--a kiss that changed his life. Later he meets the New England abolitionists, Margaret Day, John Brown and the Transcendentalists, Emerson and Thoreau. Then, as a chaplain in the army in Union-occupied Mississippi, March learns his politics are too radical for the leased Clement cotton plantation where he is stationed, so he is ordered to organize a school at Oak Landing for the newly freed slaves and their children. The final episode of Brooks' novel is set in a Washington, D.C. Union hospital, where March recuperates from a near-death experience, and where Grace re-enters his life, only to tell him to "Go home." Although MARCH is a Pulitzer-Prize winning novel, it does not quite measure up to the standard set by Brooks' first novel, YEAR OF WONDERS, which explains why I've given it a four-star rating instead of five.

G. Merritt

  lonepalm | Feb 5, 2014 |
Well written and well researched, but a very difficult book to read.

I found the main character less engaging than many of Geraldine's characters but it may be because she allows us to see so many of his very realistic flaws and never actually has him completely over come them. Because of that, the character is very realistic and very human. That is probably fitting for this brutal time period-- I'm not sure that a "hero" character would allow for a very honest look at this time in history.

For myself, a white American woman with deep ancestral roots in the South this is a painfully shameful period of history to spend so much time with so it is difficult to rate this book. I wouldn't say I "enjoyed" reading it, but that doesn't mean its a bad book. ( )
  LauraBLough | Dec 26, 2013 |
I realize that a fair amount of liberty has been taken with the historical accuracy of the times, but the sense that this period in our history was sad and "messy" comes through clearly, and is, in my opinion, a truthful rendering. The characters of Concord such as Thoreau and Emerson and March's wife, Marmee, provided an interesting look at the passion of the abolitionists. Marmee's reaction to the freed Blacks in Washington DC and especially her impression of Grace prove that it is much easier to love an idea rather than people. Mr. March is a weak character, but it's a rare individual who can always do the right thing when trapped in time of war with all its fear and suffering.

A reader certainly doesn't have to be a fan or, or have even read Little Women. This stands on its on. ( )
1 vote maryreinert | Aug 16, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 199 (next | show all)
Brooks is capable of strong writing about the natural world and nicely researched effects about the human one (on the eve of a battle, March sees ''the surgeon flinging down sawdust to receive the blood that was yet to flow''), but the book she has produced makes a distressing contribution to recent trends in historical fiction, which, after a decade or so of increased literary and intellectual weight, seems to be returning to its old sentimental contrivances and costumes.
Fascinating insight, don’t read if you’re a Little Women purist.
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For Dorleen and Cassie -

By no means little women.
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October 21, 1861 This is what I write to her: the clouds tonight embossed the sky.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
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.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0143036661, Paperback)

From Louisa May Alcott’s beloved classic Little Women, Geraldine Brooks has animated the character of the absent father, March, and crafted a story "filled with the ache of love and marriage and with the power of war upon the mind and heart of one unforgettable man" (Sue Monk Kidd). With"pitch-perfect writing" (USA Today), Brooks follows March as he leaves behind his family to aid the Union cause in the Civil War. His experiences will utterly change his marriage and challenge his most ardently held beliefs. A lushly written, wholly original tale steeped in the details of another time, March secures Geraldine Brooks’s place as a renowned author of historical fiction.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:40:25 -0400)

(see all 8 descriptions)

From Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women," Brooks has taken the character of the absent father, March, and has added adult resonance to portray the moral complexity of war and a marriage tested by the demands of extreme idealism.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 9 descriptions

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