Literature and War Readalong March 31 2014: March by Geraldine Brooks


Geraldine Brooks is an Australian-born writer whose second book, the Civil War novel March, received the Pulitzer Prize in 2006. The book is inspired by Louisa May Alcott’s famous novel Little Women. March tells the story of the absent father. Right from the beginning of Little Women we know that the father is fighting for the Northern forces in the Civil War.

Jo said sadly, “We haven’t got father, and shall not have him for a long time.” She didn’t say “perhaps never”, but each silently added it, thinking of father far away, where the fighting was.

I’ve always meant to read one of her novels and this seemed a good choice. It will be interesting to compare this to Killer Angels.

Here are the first sentences

October 21, 1861

This is what I write to her: The clouds tonight embossed the sky. A dipping sun gilded and brazed each raveling edge as if the firmament were threaded through with precious filaments. I pause there to mop my aching eye, which will not stop tearing. The line I have set down is, perhaps, on the florid side of fine, but no matter: she is a gentle critic.My hand, which I note is flecked with traces of dried phlegm, has the tremor of exhaustion.

And  some details and the blurb for those who want to join

March by Geraldine Brooks (Australia 2005) American Civil War, Novel, 304 pages

Brooks’s luminous second novel, after 2001′s acclaimed Year of Wonders, imagines the Civil War experiences of Mr. March, the absent father in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. An idealistic Concord cleric, March becomes a Union chaplain and later finds himself assigned to be a teacher on a cotton plantation that employs freed slaves, or “contraband.” His narrative begins with cheerful letters home, but March gradually reveals to the reader what he does not to his family: the cruelty and racism of Northern and Southern soldiers, the violence and suffering he is powerless to prevent and his reunion with Grace, a beautiful, educated slave whom he met years earlier as a Connecticut peddler to the plantations. In between, we learn of March’s earlier life: his whirlwind courtship of quick-tempered Marmee, his friendship with Emerson and Thoreau and the surprising cause of his family’s genteel poverty. When a Confederate attack on the contraband farm lands March in a Washington hospital, sick with fever and guilt, the first-person narrative switches to Marmee, who describes a different version of the years past and an agonized reaction to the truth she uncovers about her husband’s life. Brooks, who based the character of March on Alcott’s transcendentalist father, Bronson, relies heavily on primary sources for both the Concord and wartime scenes; her characters speak with a convincing 19th-century formality, yet the narrative is always accessible. Through the shattered dreamer March, the passion and rage of Marmee and a host of achingly human minor characters, Brooks’s affecting, beautifully written novel drives home the intimate horrors and ironies of the Civil War and the difficulty of living honestly with the knowledge of human suffering.


The discussion starts on Monday, 31 March 2014.

Further information on the Literature and War Readalong 2014, including all the book blurbs, can be found here.

29 thoughts on “Literature and War Readalong March 31 2014: March by Geraldine Brooks

  1. I loved this book. As a UK reader it gave me insights into the American Civil War that I found shocking but nevertheless I was glad to have learnt what I did. However, some of our group weren’t that impressed. It seems to be a book that you either love or hate, so I shall be interested to read the results of the forthcoming discussion.

      • No, it varied. One of the reasons I liked it so much was the way in which Brooks interwove the real history of the war and the Alcott family and the fictional history of ‘Little Women’, but for others that was a stumbling point.

  2. Caroline,
    I have longed to read March and I have a TBR copy in the house. I was so enamored of Brooks’s People of the Book–I can’t heap higher praise on it than to say it’s a must read. I also read her novel about the Plague in England, when it first came out, before Brooks was well-known. What an incredible writer. Looking forward to reading it!

  3. What an interesting premise. I read Little Women decades ago, but didn’t love it like a lot of people. There are many movie versions out there too, Caroline. I think Winona Ryder was in the latest version.
    Not sure if I’d like this, but the author sounds wonderful, so may pick up another one of her novels.

    • I think she’s well worth exploring. I saw the Winona Ryder movie years ago, so I know the story line. I still thought it might be better to read it. I’ve heard mixed things about the book, but most people loved it as children.

  4. Interesting take on the March family’s story from a new point of view, Caroline. Hope you enjoy reading it. Will look forward to hearing your thoughts. Happy reading!

  5. I think that it is a neat idea to tell the story of the missing farther from Little Women in this way.

    I look forward to reading about what you have to say about this one.

  6. I have my copy ready to go–I have heard iffy things about it–so I am glad to see such positive comments here. I have read Little Women but it has been a few years, so there will be familiar things probably in the reading, but I am hoping it won’t jar to see it fictionalized in this way. Am still reading the Shaara by the way–will put it all down to February being such a short month and busy at work. I hope March will be more productive reading-wise.

    • Iffy things . . . hmmm. Well it certainly seems that reactions are mixed. Don’t worry about the Shaara. No use forcing yourself. Maybe it’s just not the book for you right now.

  7. I read March years ago and loved it. It’s still on my shelf as one of my favorites. I was intrigued by the premise — taking a beloved story and re-imagining it from a different character’s perspective. It must have been very challenging for the author because the expectations are quite high.
    I can’t wait to hear your thoughts.

    • I’m glad to hear you liked it as well.
      I think the premise is great but, yes, it’s quite a challenge. I guess some of those who didn’t like it probabaly were not too impressed with the idea.

    • I’m glad you’ll join . I couldn’t remember the father either but I picked up my copy and his absence is mentioned on the first page.
      It will be interesting to see what she did with the story.

  8. First of all….I love the cover!!! That’s a great idea for a cover.

    I have never read any Putlizer book…as far as I can remember…looking forward to read your thought on it

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