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March: A Love Story in a Time of War by Geraldine Brooks (2008-10-01)

by Geraldine Brooks

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I love the idea of this book and the way it has been carried out; books based on other books are one of my favourite things to read if I know the original source.

Based on Louisa M. Alcott's Little Women, Brooks has taken the outline of the father who has only a small role in it, and expanded it and provided more layers of nuance to Marmee and March than the original did.

The story opens with one of the letters in Little Women from March to his family - he is away fighting for the Union side in the Civil War - and straight away we are provided with a context for the letter. All is not as it might appear and the soldiers have just been routed from their previous positions and lost a lot of men. March is a minister to the men but also undertakes any jobs that might need doing - medical, portering and ministering. But he is also an idealist and throughout the dark story we come to understand what happens to an idealist when he has to go to war.

There are shadows of his idealism bumping up against reality even before March goes to war. He loses all his money investing in a charlatan who is an abolitionist and his family endures a penurious position because of it. He then gets carried away by his own emotions when giving a speech to the young men who are off to war and goes as well, leaving his wife to cope with their children and no money.

During his time away, March is exposed to the realities of slavery, paying Black people for their work and falling in love with a mixed race woman.

When he is very unwell, his wife is summoned only to discover he is in love with another woman, and when Beth catches scarlet fever she returns home to nurse her. Much is made of Marmee's temper which must be tamed, but when we get the chapter written from her point of view, the picture of a happy family starts to crack.

The writing is sublime. Describing a house March found himself at,

I had been there before, on a spring morning, then the fog stood so thick on the river that it looked as though the bowl of the sky had spilled all its murky clouds into the water.
p11

Mixed into the text are real characters such as Emmerson Waldo and Henry Thoreau and even John Brown, all helping to create a world for the story, weaving fact and fiction together.

So, what happens when an idealist goes to war? He finds he has to face up to his own lack of courage, the fact that he irritates people and so can't get things done and is out of place. He does find his place teaching slaves and their children to read and his kindness towards them is returned but it is not a comfortable read. And he is not a success overall, returning home with more doubts than he started off with. ( )
  allthegoodbooks | Jun 15, 2024 |
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