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March by Geraldine Brooks

March by Geraldine Brooks

“If war can ever be said to be just, then this war is so; it is action for a moral cause, with the most rigorous of intellectual underpinnings. And yet everywhere I turn, I see injustice done in the waging of it. “ - March

In Louisa Alcott’s Little Women, Mr. March’s largest role in the narrative is that his daughters are perpetually waiting for his letters home. In March, Geraldine Brooks traces his story as he enlists to become a Union chaplain, experiences many horrors of war, and eventually finds himself tutoring freed slaves (“contraband”) on a destitute cotton plantation. His cheerful letters home to Marmee contrast with the terrible details he confides to the reader but does not write home about: the pervasive racism; cruelty; and suffering that he encounters in a number of different encounters.

While March’s staunch abolitionist principles are commendable, a combination of bad luck and worse decisions makes his path very difficult indeed. Often he does not live up to his noble ideals, and one of the most interesting aspects of the book is the tension created between his rhetoric and his character flaws. In her endnotes, Brooks reveals that March’s character is largely based on that of Bronson Alcott, Louisa Alcott’s father, whose journals provided her with a glimpse into this flawed Transcendentalist. Another fascinating aspect is seeing a very different Marmee, hot-tempered to the point of embarrassment, through March’s eyes. March’s world is populated with such famous figures as Emerson, Thoreau, and John Brown (who is ultimately responsible for March’s financial ruin).

Brook’s writing is luminous. She perfectly captures March’s voice and deftly sets the book’s scenery with authentic historical detail. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 2006. Read an interview with Brooks about the novel here and a reader’s guide here