March Madness

Two of my all-time favorite books are historical novels that take place during the Civil War.  Both are wonderfully imaginative, and both are entitled March.

March by Geraldine Brooks is the fictional account of the Civil War experiences of Mr. March, the absent father in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.  An idealistic Cleric, Mr. March is in his 40’s when the Civil War starts.  Too old to fight as a soldier, he enlists as an Army Chaplain, even though it means leaving his wife and 4 daughters behind.  Mr. March strongly believes all men should be free and feels compelled to join the Union cause, but he also feels guilty about the hardship his family will face while he’s away.

As Chaplain, he finds his duties to be more than just administering comfort to the dying.  He gets caught up in the middle of fierce battles and sees much death and mayhem, though in his letters home he leaves these details out.  If you remember the letters in the book Little Women, they were always upbeat.

The book Little Women is partly autobiographical, loosely based on Louisa May Alcott’s childhood experiences.  Geraldine Brooks researched March by reading the diaries and letters of Louisa May’s father Bronson Alcott.  March is a fascinating mixture of history, biography and fiction.

The March written by E.L. Doctorow refers to General William Tecumseh Sherman’s devastating 60-mile-wide march through Georgia and the Carolinas during the waning days of the Civil War.  A riveting blend of fiction and fact, reading this book is like witnessing  this historic trek first-hand.

Narrated by an engaging cast of characters, Sherman comes across as slightly unhinged in his determination to pound a stake through the heart of the South.  Pearl, a bi-racial slave whose father was a plantation owner, contemplates a new life as a free person. Confederate soldiers Arly and Will provide some comic relief as they switch allegiance as easily as they switch uniforms.

E. L. Doctorow has written a powerful book that captures the madness of Sherman’s march, and the madness of war.

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