Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Review: March by Geraldine Brooks


Author: Geraldine Brooks
Publisher/Format: BBC Audiobooks America, , 10 hrs 21 minutes
Narrator: Richard Easton  
Also read as Ebook: Penguin Books, 267 pages
Characters: Robert March, Marmee, Grace Clement
Subject: Treatment of "contraband" slaves during the American Civil War
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Public library for both versions

I suspect that the majority of the women who learned to read in the past 100 years have read Louisa May Alcott's Little Women.  Geraldine Brooks was one of them, and using the framework provided by LMA she has written the fictional tale of "Mr. March"-- the absent father of the family, who went off to minister to Union troops during the Civil War.  Bronson Alcott, Louisa's father, was a "radical, even by the yardstick of nineteenth-century New England...He recorded his own life in sixty-one journals, and his letters fill thirty-seven manuscript volumes in the Harvard College Library." (pg. 252), providing Brooks with copious inspiration.

Brooks gives us a man who is a selfish vegetarian, whose stand on principles often cost people's lives, who is definitely NOT the daddy that appears in Little Women.  We are given gruesome battle scenes, murders, torture, and all the inhumanity man can inflict upon his fellow human beings. We also see "Marmee", (was that really her name?) when she comes to DC to minister to her husband in an Army hospital (as portrayed in Alcott's original story), but it is really the character of the slave Grace Clement who is the strong woman in the story.  The book includes Brooks' notes on other sources she used to concoct the story, from medical texts to autobiographies.

It's a well-written story, perhaps even deserving the Pulitzer Prize it won (I'm not qualified as a literature critic to make that call), but I fail to see what it really has to do with Little Women, and in the end,  I almost feel that it demeans Louise May Alcott's work by trying to hang this story on hers.  This March person, by Brooks' own admission, has only his radical views in common with Bronson Alcott, for instance Alcott was not a clergyman, did not go south during the War, and was not at any of the battle depicted in the book. Yes it was fiction, yes it departed from known facts, but I'd have preferred a totally fictional story that could have stood on its own.


  1. I have to agree that I don't like the idea that the book seems to try to latch on to Alcott, and the fame of LW, but in no way stays true to the book.

  2. I had this book on my tbr list but I'm re-thinking that. Not too sure I'm up for gruesome scenes and torture. Brooks's People of the Book was a good story but some of the plot set during the inquisition was tough reading for me.

  3. I don't know. This kind of strikes me as lazy writing - taking a LMA character but then giving him a history and qualities he didn't have. Trying to capture LMA fans I suppose. Not on my list.

  4. I haven't read this book because some of my friends warned me off of it. Seeing your review just confirms my decision.


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