Author: Geraldine Brooks
Genre: Historical fiction
Publication Date: 2005
Purchase Price: $15.00 (paperback)
In Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, very little is known about Mr. March (the girls’ father and Mrs. March’s husband). In part one of Alcott’s masterpiece, the father figure is away, working as a chaplain for the Union Army. He reappears at the end of the first book, and features more heavily in the second part — but the reader never hears his thoughts, or learns anything about his wartime experience, other than the fact that he was wounded.
This is where Geraldine Brooks’ March takes us: to the battlefields, the destroyed homes, desperate men, and the women who fight to keep families together.
The other side of the story
I knew that I would enjoy Brooks’ novel, simply because I learned much from one of her previous works, Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women.
If I enjoyed her non-fiction, I am obsessed with her novel. And so is the rest of the world: March received the Pulitzer Price in 2005, and it’s been selling like crazy ever since.
The book covers the several years in which Mr. March is away at war, and his time in Washington Hospital after being wounded. But Brooks goes even further back, with Mr. March’s flashbacks beginning when he is an 18 year-old traveling salesman.
Though already chafing at the idea of slavery, March meets many people through his lifetime who further convince him of the wrongness of that institution. A fervent abolitionist, he marries a woman who is just as passionate about freedom and equality as he, and together the young family faces the trials of life, including poverty and war.
I don’t think I was expecting the violence and complexity that makes up March. Brooks makes no effort to sugarcoat the horror and evil that the main character sees, is unable to stop, and for which he blames himself.
Even though he hates himself for it, Mr. March conceals from his wife the bad he has seen. But the reader is privy to his every thought and experience, and cannot be comforted by ignorance.
I particularly enjoyed the few chapters that are written from Marmee’s (Mrs. March) perspective. Both characters’ narrations are cerebral and in-depth, but it was great to get a feminine perspective — especially one that is so intelligent and passionate.
I loved March, and can see why others have as well. You don’t have to have read Little Women to enjoy Brooks’ novel, and I highly recommend you pick up a copy.
- Find the Cost of Freedom (Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young)
- The last letter of Sullivan Ballou (audio from Ken Burns’ documentary, “The Civil War.” Get your tissues ready.)
“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 he was meant to do.” (p. 184)
“The waste of it. I sit here, and I look at him, and it is as if a hundred women sit beside me; the revolutionary farm wife, the English peasant woman, the Spartan mother — ‘Come back with your shield or on it,’ she cried, because that was what she was expected to cry. And then she leaned across the broken body of her son and the words turned to dust in her throat.” (p. 221)
Has anyone else read March? Do you enjoy novels that tell the other side of a well known story?