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March: A Love Story in a Time of War - Geraldine Brooks

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Genre: Fiction / Author: Geraldine Brooks / Paperback / 304 Pages / Book is published 2006-01-16 by HarperPerennial

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      14.11.2009 01:37
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      An alternative look at the American Civil War as experienced by Mr March

      "March" is an interesting book which is based around one man's experience of part of the American Civil War. That man just happens to be March - the father of the March family of Louisa May Alcott's novel "Little Women". March is absent for much of the book and Brooks has taken this absence and fleshed out his experiences for us in her own novel.

      The fact that "March" was based around the father in "Little Women" was what first attracted me to it. I felt it was an interesting idea to take the absent father and see things from his point of view. "Little Women" is a well loved children's book and Brooks has taken a brave step in writing something connected to it.

      "March" is of course, darker than "Little Women" and shows us a much more human side to the almost angelic Marmee and March himself. In the afterword at the end of the novel the author quotes her mother as saying " Nobody in real life is such a goody-goody as that Marmee". This is one of the interesting and more daring aspects of Brooks work - I enjoyed her take on Marmee.

      The book is narrated by March and is interspersed by his letters home to his wife and daughters. The letter is usually the beginning of a chapter and is then contrasted with the truth of what is happening around and to him. Brooks also uses events in order to have March reminisce about the past. We see how he makes - and loses- his fortune, as well as how he met his wife, Marmee.

      March is presented as an idealist, an unconventional preacher who has joined the Yankee forces as a chaplain due to his strong belief that slavery is wrong. March struggles to impress his liberal beliefs on those around him and is often shocked and horrified by what he sees.

      We are shown the Southern attitude to slaves in March's past and his visit to a Southern plantation. He is appalled by the careless brutality he witnesses and ends up unwittingly causing. Here he also meets the beautiful Grace, an educated and refined young woman who is also a slave.

      Brooks' depiction of the young Marmee is one of the highlights of the story for me. March is drawn to her by her passion and fiery temper, although he frequently references his attempts to curb her wild nature once they are married. Marmee draws March into the Underground Railroad and helping escaped slaves.

      March tends to base his decisions on what he thinks Marmee wants and invariably gets it wrong. We are shown just how wrong March is about Marmee's thoughts and feelings when the narrative switches to her at the end of the book for a few chapters.

      When he decides to go to war as a chaplain he does so under the misapprehension that that was what Marmee wanted. In her narrative we see how angry she is about his decision - which is something that he never sees.

      March's experiences with the army and then helping out on a plantation being run for the owner by a young Yankee hoping to make his fortune are an interesting backdrop. We constantly see March's struggle to help and educate the former slaves who are very wary of him as a white man.

      The American Civil War is not something I know much about and Brooks doesn't go into heavy detail about it. Rather she examines the moral attitudes and problems surrounding the fight to end slavery. We see the extreme differences in opinions, even in those fighting for the North, regarding black people and their status.

      March comes across as a kind and good hearted man who is very often naive about the world. He is shown as a dreamer and the practical aspects of his existence are left to others - usually Marmee.

      Brooks' insertion of the chapters narrated by Marmee is very clever as we are so used to believing everything that March, as our narrator, believes. With Marmee's voice we see another side to March's life and how his adventures have affected her. He is relatively sanguine about the loss of his fortune and believes it was good for his family. She is angry about it and the fact that the practical considerations are left to her.

      Marmee is much more human in Brook's depiction of her but can still be related to the Marmee of Alcott's story. I found the difference quite enjoyable and felt that much of Marmee's anger at March's selfishness was justifiable.

      I enjoyed this book and thought it was an interesting and unique idea from Brooks. The backdrop was interesting and the characterisation very enjoyable and believable. I would recommend this as an enjoyable read and not only for those who enjoyed "Little Women".

      This review is also on ciao.co.uk under my username.

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