The march : a novel

by E. L. Doctorow

Hardcover, 2005

Status

Available

Genres

Publication

New York : Random House, c2005.

Description

In 1864, after Union general William Tecumseh Sherman burned Atlanta, he marched his sixty thousand troops east through Georgia to the sea, and then up into the Carolinas. The army fought off Confederate forces and lived off the land, pillaging the Southern plantations, taking cattle and crops for their own, demolishing cities, and accumulating a borne-along population of freed blacks and white refugees until all that remained was the dangerous transient life of the uprooted, the dispossessed, and the triumphant.

User reviews

LibraryThing member katiekrug
"I don’t know what to think. I’ve lost everything to this war. And I see steadfastness not in the rooted mansions of a city but in what has no roots, what is itinerant. A floating world.” (page 61)

The March is, quite simply, exactly what historical fiction should be. It brings alive a specific time and place, creates characters that are complex and reflective of their period, and brings to the reader the sights, smells and sounds of that period.

Doctorow tells the story of Sherman’s March to the Sea and the end of the American Civil War through numerous characters – white, black, free, slave, army, civilian, rich and poor. The sheer number of characters and stories could be overwhelming but they are connected by the March itself, a shared experience, and really the central character of the book. Through a kaleidoscope of images and stories, Doctorow pieces together a portrait of war, death, brutality, kindness, hope and redemption.

One of my favorite parts was the brief glimpse we are given of President Lincoln very near the end of the war. Wrede, a doctor observes: "His affliction might, after all, be the wounds of the war he’d gathered into himself, the amassed miseries of this torn-apart country made incarnate. Wrede, who had attended every kind of battle death, could not recall having ever before felt this sad for another human being.”

This book sucked me in, both as a very good, well-told story, and as a fictionalized account of a part of American history I am not deeply familiar with. My one complaint would be that a map of Sherman’s route through Georgia and the Carolinas would have been helpful, as would some indication – perhaps in an afterword – of what characters were real or based on historical figures and which were purely fictionalized (some are obvious, but I now have a lot of Googling to do).
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LibraryThing member Cariola
I haven't enjoyed a Doctorow novel this much since I first read Ragtime. The structure is similar: the story is told from the points of view of a diverse group of characters who have one thing in common, their participation--willing or unwilling--in events surrounding Sherman's march. The characterizations were fascinating. Someone posted that his atittude towards Sherman was hostile, but I didn't read it that way. In fact, he tempered it with Sherman's sadness about his son's death and his subsequent sympathy for other children and for parents who have also lost children. And he seems to have a moment of insight when he meets Johnston near the end of the novel. I loved Pearl and Stephen Walsh, Calvin, Sartoris, Arly--all of whose lives had been changed forever by the experience of war--some for the better, others much worse. A solid and engaging work.… (more)
LibraryThing member jody
I have found myself spending considerable time in hospital waiting rooms of late, and in situations like these I’m always thankful for a good book. So I have spent my waiting hours reading E.L. Doctorow’s The March, which was released in 2006 and hit the New York Times Bestseller list without any problems. Though not to be confused with Geraldine Brooks’ March, Doctorow’s novel also deals with the America Civil War as we follow Sherman’s troops through Georgia and into the Carolinas. This band of Union soldiers gathers as it goes, a virtual grab bag of individuals that I became completely besotted with. There are freed slaves, turn-coats, young orphans, southern belles and defunct doctors along with the usual rabble we’ve learnt of time and again.

Politics aside, Doctorow puts a human face on this war which is refreshing. There are badies on both sides and it’s a good idea not to get too attached to any one character. Doctorow is as brutal with them as the war was to all. It is a moving and honest portrayal of the times and if you have a mild to moderate interest in the Civil War I would suggest you find a copy.

But don’t stop there. Earlier this year I read Paradise Alley by Kevin Baker. This was released some years ago, but is definitely one not to miss. Set in New York City, it is a fictional account of the riots (the worst in US history) caused by the establishment of the draft to man troops fighting the South. It caused a rebellion amongst the poor and working class simply because $300 you could buy your name out of the draft. See … they were even doing it back then!

Personally, I had never read any fiction or otherwise on this topic and I found it completely enthralling. The characters are perfectly believable and the events well researched and from what I could discover, true to historical fact. I devoured this book in record time and found not only was it utterly enjoyable, but I actually learnt something new in American history. As a Canadian I was exposed to more than enough American history at school, but someone left this little morsel off our plate (or maybe I wasn’t listening that day). Either way, this is a great book for modern history buffs, and I recommend it for one of those compelling reads we are always looking out for.
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LibraryThing member Joycepa
This novel revolves around William Tecumseh Sherman's march to the sea, from Atlanta to Goldsborough, N.C. the story is told in the 3rd person from different points ov view; the participating characters range from Pearl, a half-black child of a Georgia plantation owner to her former mistress to soldiers from both Union and Confederate armies to Sherman himself.

Doctorow's treatment of Sherman, which is hostile, depends heavily on Sherman's high-strung temperament, his restless activity and at times lapses from the historical record. In the process, Doctorow makes some minor historical errors--placing Sherman's breakdown after First Bull Run when in reality it happened months later in St. Louis. The description of the breakdown itself is startling, since I know of no historical record that shows that Sherman had such an episode during or after Bull Run, which Doctorow implies.

Another, far more startling error is quoting Sherman as saying he didn't understand why the defence of Atlanta had been given to 'that stupid Frenchman Beauregard". He might indeed wonder, since to anyone else's knowledge, it was John Bell Hood who lost Atlanta. How did an editor let that slip by? The story is in no way enhanced by it. Another perfectly legitimate literary device is a fictional account of an assassination attempt on Sherman after the Battle of Bentonville. What is bothersome about this, however, is that there is no afterward, as is usual in the case of fiction placed in a historical context, explaining the liberties taken with the facts. This is a major and unwelcome departure from normal custom.

That said, the book is brilliant, especially at the end, particularly at the Battle of Bentonville. Doctorow evokes the chaos of battle, the horror of war. Through the character of Dr. Wrede Sartorius, Doctorow shows the terrible cost and human suffering of the most wasteful of human endeavors, war.

There is a section where Pryce, the English journalist, is looking down from a crotch in a tree at hand-to-hand combat, describing; "This was not war as adventure nor war for a solemn cause, it was war at its purest, a mindless mass rage severed from any cause, ideal or moral principle". (p. 298) The brilliance of the book is in showing how people manage to survive and go on with their lives in the middle of and despite the "mindless mass rage". Despite the really serious--and irresponsible--lapses noted above, the book is an outstanding work.
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LibraryThing member stretch
The March is a dramatization of the devastation wrought from total warfare and emancipation of the slaves of General Sherman’s and the Army of the West campaign through the south. Rather than focus on the historical events themselves E. L. Doctorow weaves a narrative of the march from multiple perspectives including well known generals, rebel turncoats, freed slaves, a British war correspondent, a photographer, dispossessed plantation owners, a surgeon, and a few soldiers who meet their ends along the way.

There are some excellent passages and writing about the march itself as living organism that has to feed and tamed in order to achieve it’s ultimate goal. Also, the dialogue between characters is spot on, making the character to character interaction seem natural and fluid. Match that with an obvious desire to present the history accurately and you’ve got the raw materials for a great novel. However, perhaps that book’s greatest short coming was intended to be its greatest strength; the vast array of characters.

Although I can see why Doctorow would want to include such a wide array of perspectives of such a grand event, individually the characters are not given an enough space to be fully developed and flourish. I think the incomplete realizations and disjointed/abortive storylines are meant to emphasize the chaos of war; if so, it didn’t work for me. Another issue I had with the book is that sometimes the characters didn’t seem like characters at all instead they are used to represent larger historical forces that are not necessarily at work in the micro-stories that are the focus of the narrative. It seems like Doctorow is trying to pull all these individual stories together in order to lecture to the reader about the injustices of the time. It seems to me that the best historical fiction allows the reads complete entry into another time and place with all the prejudices and limitations of that experience. Perhaps if the a few of the characters were given more space, more depth, and more nuance there wouldn’t be this issue of distance between the reader and the events.

In the end, I’m not sorry to have spent time reading this novel, there is plenty of good writing in the various individual stories to recommend it, but falls a bit short of my expectations.
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LibraryThing member mnlohman
The story of Sherman's march to Atlanta. Doctorow's usual wonderful multi-layered tale.
LibraryThing member junebedell
Enlightening historical fiction that reads like a movie. It takes little imagination to see the absolute hellishness of war, and specifically what the Civil War did to the southern states. Fascinating. Loved it.
LibraryThing member dougwood57
The March is not bad book, Doctorow is a talented writer. But it did not have a feel of verisimilitude for me. The characters seemed thin. The Civil War was just a backdrop for the story. It could have been a story of displaced people anywhere.

Better Civil War fiction is available: Red Badge of Courage, Ambrose Bierce, Lincoln by Gore Vidal.… (more)
LibraryThing member zip_000
I have read most of Doctorow's books (all but his first two, and one later one), and this one is I'd say one of my least favorite. It lacks something that the others have, though I am hard pressed to say what that is exactly. Doctorow often writes about historical events, but typically those events are just backdrops or settings that allow for interesting situations and speculations. Here though, the background events are, I think, too large to just stay in the background, and the foreground characters and events are never as interesting as those in, say, "Billy Bathgate," "The Book of Daniel," or "Ragtime."

The only compelling thing that I really found here was the doctor. The character seemed to know more than he could possibly know - not in a bad storytelling way, but in an uncanny metaphysical way. I wish that there had been more of the doctor, but at the same time, I think that if the character had been more drawn out, whatever it is that makes him uncanny and compelling would likely be lost.

That being said, it was certainly an enjoyable read. A only halfway decent Doctorow novel is still a very good book.
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LibraryThing member Vidalia
Powerful. Docotorw makes real the brutal tidal wave that was Sherman's March to the Sea. I was completely absorbed from the first page. Doctorow gives us individual dramas, defeats and survial stories swept along by the largest, most devastating act of war-revenge to ever happen American soil.
LibraryThing member bard721
Read for a book club - was not prepared for the graphic descriptions of civil war surgery/injury. Perfered Sharra's Gettysburg - more history less fiction.
LibraryThing member podperson
Heros and villains, mostly confederate during Sherman's march to the sea and beyond. Trust Doctorow to take the view of the losing side (white southerners0 and the underdog (black former slaves). Still not his best work.
LibraryThing member franoscar
This book is mostly very readable & not too gruesome. A few parts get philosophical. Some of it didn't make a lot of sense -- like why did Emily Thompson end up in bed with the doctor -- who of those 2 would have initiated that coupling? It didn't seem to me to fit either character. Was it just a device to show him surgically deflowering her so it wouldn't hurt, to give another piece of his character? The nutty Rebel, Arly, was another, a little too crazed for the logical moves he took & a lot too lucky to survive all her survived...Anyway, it was fun to read.… (more)
LibraryThing member mrstreme
"War is hell."

The Union march through Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina utilized one of the oldest military tactics - burn civilian houses, steal their food, rape their women and leave them with nothing. Demoralize the enemy by getting them wear it hurts the most - at home.

This novel follows several characters whose lives were turned upside down by Sherman's "March to the Sea" (and up the coast). From freed slaves to Southern belles to crazed Rebel soldiers to the high Army brass, this novel shows how the pain and suffering of war is not only confined to those in actual battle. War is also hell for the wives, mothers and children on the homefront, for the journalists trying to get the story, for the politicians whose policies impact the very reason for fighting. It's simply hell for all.

If you enjoy Civil War fiction, Doctorow's book is a smart, fast and entertaining read.
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LibraryThing member theageofsilt
"The March" portrays dozens of characters swept up in Sherman's march through the South. Freed slaves, wounded soldiers, Confederate n'er-do-wells and displaced Southern aristocracy are among the throngs that careen from Georgia to South Carolina to North Carolina. I found the book unsatisfying in its development of some important characters. We hear very little of the inner voices of some such as Emily Thompson, who is the daughter of a judge and becomes what at the time would have been considered little more than a harlot because of her attraction to an unfeeling Army doctor. The doctor, Wrede Sartorius, is problematic too -- detached almost to the point of pathology. But other characters, such as Pearl, are vivid. We watch as she matures in self-awareness and understanding of the nature of slavery and oppression.… (more)
LibraryThing member joeltallman
This book moves slowly, like the march in its title, but has an immediate substance from the first page. I think I may have to re-read it one day and decide whether to remove that half star or turn it into a full fifth star.
LibraryThing member edwardlally
Although this was on a number of "best of" lists, and I was looking forward to the subject matter I ended up disappointed. There was not a significant amount of historical detail to help me learn more about Sherman's infamous march. Neither were the characters and plot developed enough to make this a great work of fiction. Doctorow writes well, but the story was lacking.… (more)
LibraryThing member gwendolyndawson
A collection of intertwined tales surrounding Sherman's march through the South during the Civil War. Touching overall but a bit boring or overly cliched at times.
LibraryThing member bfolds
I approached this book with mixed feelings. I've loved the previous Doctorow books I've read, but having been raised in the South knew that the story was likely to be painful.
I should have known that I could trust Doctorow to create fully-realized characters on both sides of this terrible conflict .
This is a beautifully written, important book for anyone interested in gaining a deeper understanding of the impact this event in American history.
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LibraryThing member bobmoore
After reading other Civil War fiction (see my list) this reads like a great writer notching his belt - Civil War novel, ka-ching. The story is mildly interesting and the descriptions are passable. Given the works Doctorow has produced, i.e. Ragtime, Billy Bathgate, etc. this won't be the one he's remembered for.
LibraryThing member shawnd
This is an historical fiction account of General Sherman's military march through the South during the American Civil War. Filled with a tightly bound cast of characters (which have an annoying tendency of trickling into the story even until the book is almost over), the story moves along but does not wow. Perhaps more well written than Doctorow's City of God, The March is inferior to Billy Bathgate and Homer & Langley.

Fortunately in this novel, Sherman is included in the cast, however other famous notables like Lincoln and Grant only make cameo appearances. Other characters include a naturalized German Union surgeon, a couple of requisite Southern Belles, a Rebel criminal duo posing as Union soldiers more for survival than espionage, and a mulatto daughter of a plantation owner. Perhaps typecast and typical, there are superior Civil War historical fiction accounts, although perhaps none so dedicated to painting Sherman and his effort so singularly.
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LibraryThing member twallace
The March investigates Sherman's march through Georgia and the Carolinas from the multiple viewpoints of a wide cast of characters, both Confederate and Union. After a slightly slow beginning, the novel becomes more interesting as the different characters' lives twine together in unexpected ways. As always, Doctorow's writing is beautiful, and the resulting work is thought-provoking and enjoyable...but not stunning like some of his others.… (more)
LibraryThing member p_linehan
I have read many Civil War histories, but none made me feel as though I knew the people of that era. For a relatively short book, The March has a great many characters, each one struggling to survive during Sherman's March from Atlanta. Not all of them have happy endings. I am very glad that the slave girl Pearl does have the promise of one. It's a great read.… (more)
LibraryThing member pickoftheliterate
Like Middlesex, this was another that lived up to its hype. Doctorow does an amazing job of showing the reader what it must have been like to be a part of Sherman’s legendary and incendiary march through the South during the waning days of the Civil War.

Perhaps the best element of the book is the restraint that Doctorow shows with his topic. Reading it, I couldn’t help reflecting that many a lesser writer would fall over himself with background and plot summary of the War Between The States. Doctorow barely touches on the big picture of the war; he just lets us draw our own conclusions as we follow a small but varied cast of characters: Pearl, a recently freed slave; Arly and Will, two soldiers who swap sides repeatedly in a tragicomic subplot; and Colonel Sartorious, a surgeon indifferent to almost anything except his medical duties in almost impossible circumstances.

Altogether the book is gripping and unnerving. Doctorow has written a real masterpiece but left us to decide what messages we take away from it.
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LibraryThing member denmoir
A fictionalised account of the great march of Sherman; a journey, a breaking-free; a discovery of the soul.

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