Friday, March 23, 2012

Books: March

By Geraldine Brooks
Copyright 2005
Read by Richard Easton
Unabridged 10 hrs 21 min

Geraldine Brooks, an author who has written other works I have reviewed, including Year of Wonders and People of the Book, offers up an account of Mr. March, the patriarch of the fabled March family of Little Women fame.

In Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott, the father has gone off to serve in the Civil War. Brooks, after doing extensive historic research, gives us her imagining of his story.

The Reverend March is an idealist and a philosopher who, though about the age of 50, feels it is his duty to enlist as a Union preacher in order to further the abolitionist cause.

He is a flawed character, quite human and ultimately not the ideal soldier. Nor is he the ideal religious figure. But he is a man, and Brooks takes great pains to show his humanity.

The story opens at a battle. March joins others in a retreat as the Confederates take ground. He finds himself on familiar soil, for as a young man he was a peddler who made his fortune selling trinkets to Virginia plantation owners. Now he is back at a spot he remembers.

As the story progresses, March goes to help with contraband, freed slaves who are now working for pay on southern plantations. The Union has an interest in harvesting the cotton and other goods from the land, while the Confederate goal is to burn the plants before the Union can make a harvest. It is in this framework that much of the story takes place.

March spends a lot of time trying to write cheery letters back home to his wife, Marmee, and his "little women," Jo, Meg, Beth, and Amy. He does not tell them of the horrors he experiences.

Finally, he takes ill. The narration to this point has been in his voice, in first person, but when he is no longer conscious, Marmee takes over the narrative duties, also in first person. She joins her husband at the hospital in Washington DC in order to nurse him back to health.

I was listening to an audio version and while I enjoyed it, I did wish that the narrator had changed to a female during the two hours or so that Marmee spoke. I think it would have helped with the audio version. I doubt it mattered in the text, though I did wonder if the author considered third person for this part.

I have read a number of Civil War books, both fiction and nonfiction. I found this to be historically accurate and an excellent imagining of the horrors of war.

4 stars

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