Monday, December 2, 2013

Book Review: "March" by Geraldine Brooks

Little Women is one of the most well known American books ever written. The story of these girls and their Mom surviving through the Civil War is a staple. They spend a lot of the book pining after their father and husband who is surviving on the war front. Though this man is a main feature of the book we don't know much about him. That's where "March" comes in.

"March" follows the Dad of "Little Women" starting first as a young man of 18, as a young peddler who witnesses the terror of slavery first hand in Virginia. Next, as a young preacher and intellectual who falls in love with the fiery abolitionist and Underground Railroad helper that would soon be his wife and the mother of his 4 girls.The majority of the story is told in flashback of these times and his present state of being a chaplain in the Union army during the Civil War.

War is hell. But the facial hair is impressive.

He marches off to war with big hopes of making a big difference and helping the men in his unit.It doesn't take him long to realize that most of his job his doing the best he can to calm the dying and assisting the surgeon. He also quickly realizes that 38 is pretty old to be keeping this kind of pace. (38 in Civil War time is a lot older than 38 now!) After a perceived indecency with an old acquaintance the Chaplain is transferred away from his war front unit. He ends up teaching freed slaves who are working (for money) on a plantation. They are eager to learn, especially the children and he bonds with a lot of them quickly. It's still very hard work but at least he feels like he's making more of a difference. Unfortunately this all ends in spectacularly bad fashion.

March survives all of this (but you know that because you've read "Little Women") but has a hard time reconciling his ideals and his experiences with his life as it was and as it is now.He held very lofty and grandiose ideals before the war, thinking that everything can be solved with just a little level headed discussion. Now that he's seen senseless murder, incredible violence and generally the worst that humanity has to offer he wonders if he's been wrong all this time.

I have some qualms with this book.

Dad March is not super likeable. I know he's supposed to be noble and well-intentioned and all those things but he really just comes off as preachy, condescending, not a good listener. However, I found Grace and several of the other characters to be very interesting and compelling.When Mrs March takes over the narration for a few chapters towards the end I like the book better!

Considering his holier than thou attitude, the man is not great with controlling his urges. He's quick to criticize and try to tame his wife's temper but really doesn't see his own as a problem.

I have yet to read a book that dovetails in with a classic book (like this one does with Little Women) and really liked it. This could just be a personal bias on my account but they never seem to live up to my (reasonable) expectations. Though I did just finish "Havisham" which is a sort of prequel to "Great Expectations" and I liked that and I hated "Great Expectations." So maybe I just really didn't like this book.(Shoulder shrug.)

So with the aforementioned critiques I'm giving it 2.5 out of 5 stars. If you have a real passion for the Civil War/abolition of slavery/"Little Women" then you still might be interested in picking it up. However, I haven't given up on Geraldine Brooks as an author, I have another one of her books on my to-read list, maybe there will be better times had there!

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