March by Geraldine Brooks. Published in 2005.
Synopsis: This work of historical fiction is told from the point-of-view of Mr. March, the absent father in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. Set during the Civil War, Mr. March serves as an army chaplain. Tracing his life as an abolitionist – beginning with his first love with the slave Grace – to his near-fatal illness and short-comings, March draws from the life of Bronson Alcott and weaves in a few other historical figures too.
About the Author: Australian-born journalist Geraldine Brooks previously served as war correspondent for The Wall Street Journal in Bosnia, Somalia and the Middle East. Her other books include Year of Wonders (a historical novel set during the 17th-century bubonic plague epidemic), People of the Book, and several non-fiction books. Married to American journalist Tony Horwitz, Brooks became a U.S. citizen in 2002. March won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for best American fiction.
My Initial Reactions to the Book
I was looking forward to reading this book, largely because I am generally interested in this period of history and am a huge fan of the writings of Emerson, Thoreau and other transcendentalists. I adored Little Women, despite later learning that Louisa May Alcott detested it and wrote it to earn an income for their family when her idealistic father had failed to. Having just finished a great Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Olive Kitteridge, I had high hopes for this book.
Unfortunately, I came away a bit disappointed. To start, I think I have a prejudice against books written by women that are first-person narratives from the point-of-view of men (for example, I didn’t really care for Water for Elephants despite the rave reviews). The writing style of March reminded me of Wuthering Heights, which is fine for a novel written in the nineteenth century, but not one written in 2005.
As I mentioned above, I am a huge fan of the transcendentalist school of thought and the writings of Emerson and Thoreau, so what I enjoyed most about this book was the tie-in with actual history. Although they are minor characters, Emerson, Thoreau and John Brown are some of the more interesting characters in the book. I appreciated the personalized connections with the fictionalized March family – Thoreau going berry hunting with the March sisters and Mr. March’s beneficence towards John Brown as the agent for the family’s financial ruin.
After reading Brooks’ afterword, I appreciate the research she undertook in putting this novel together and attempts to portray a period in history accurately. Perhaps in my mind I have over-glorified the person that Bronson Alcott really was, but I found myself annoyed by the character of Mr. March and his constant obsession with his weaknesses and short-comings.
So what did you think of the book? Did you enjoy it or were you also a bit annoyed by it? Have you also read Little Women and how do you think the two stories compare? Do you believe it is an accurate reflection of this period in American history? Please post your opinions in the comments section below.
Next up for discussion: Abby Sher’s memoir about her struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder – Amen, Amen, Amen: Memoir of a Girl who Couldn’t Stop Praying (Among Other Things). Discussion begins May 5th.