March - Geraldine Brooks

Title: March
Author: Geraldine Brooks
Country: USA
Year: 2005
Rating: 5 of 5
Pages: 280

First sentence: This is what I write to her: The clouds tonight embossed the sky.

I always hesitate to pick up books that are based on characters from classics, especially a classic as beloved as Lousia May Alcott's Little Women. March, by Geraldine Brooks, tells the previously untold story of the absent father. Fortunately for readers, it does not disappoint.

In this beautifully written novel, we get to experience life from Mr. March's perspective. Told largely through a series of flashbacks after he enlists as a Chaplain for the Union Army, we hear about March's childhood, his life as a young peddler in the pre-Civil War South, how he makes his fortune, and how he loses it. We learn about his dreams, hopes, failures, hopeless idealism, and indiscretions. The writing is exquisite, and sounds like an authentic voice from the past.

Brooks' detailed research of the Civil War era is evident, and I learned about aspects of the war that I had not previously known about, such as what happened to runaway slaves that crossed the federal lines during the war. Referred to as contraband, they worked on plantations taken over by Northerners for a small wage.

Like Alcott, Geraldine Brooks draws largely from Bronson Alcott's life for inspiration. Yet, this is a novel that easily stands on its own. Lovers of Little Women may not like the freedom that Brooks took with the characters, which were portrayed as an ideal family. Through this novel, they are a bit more realistic, and seen in a different light. It is a book about the harsh realities of life; she does not cast Mr. March in the role of a hero.
I promised her that I would write something every day, and I find myself turning to this obligation when my mind is most troubled. For it is as if she were here with me for a moment, her calming hand resting lightly upon my shoulder. Yet I am thankful she is not here, to see what I must see, to know what I am come to know. And with this thought I exculpate my censorship: I never promised I would write the truth. (p.4)