March

by Geraldine Brooks

Hardcover, 2005

Status

Available

Genres

Publication

New York : Viking, 2005.

Description

"As the North reels under a series of defeats during the first years of the Civil War, one man leaves behind his family to aid the Union cause. His experiences will change his marriage and challenge his ardently held beliefs"--Container.

Media reviews

Brooks is capable of strong writing about the natural world and nicely researched effects about the human one (on the eve of a battle, March sees ''the surgeon flinging down sawdust to receive the blood that was yet to flow''), but the book she has produced makes a distressing contribution to recent trends in historical fiction, which, after a decade or so of increased literary and intellectual weight, seems to be returning to its old sentimental contrivances and costumes.
1 more
Fascinating insight, don’t read if you’re a Little Women purist.

User reviews

LibraryThing member DeltaQueen50
I have been nervous about reading March by Geraldine Brooks, even though I have enjoyed her previous novels, as I have such a strong attachment to Little Women and I feared Brooks’ vision wouldn’t agree with mine. I am happy to report that other than minor differences, Geraldine Brooks has delivered an excellent, moving story of how a man of conscience experienced the Civil War over the course of one year.

The author draws on her own experience as a war correspondent to vividly describe both battle scenes and conditions in a realistic way. Through the eyes of Peter March, we are able to picture the small events and narrow views of one man’s war experiences. As a chaplain he is mostly dealing with the wounded , the sick and the dead. Being a man of such strong anti-slavery convictions and being totally against violence, he spends a lot of his time wrestling with the morality of war and his own guilt. Not be able to accept even the most casual racism that was prevalent even on the Yankee side, he soon found himself transferred from the regular army to a captured Plantation to deal with the education of ex-slaves.

I was a little taken aback with Brooks view of Marmee, but as I read deeper into the book, her interpretation grew on me and seemed right. I haven’t read Little Women in years, but I now realize, that the Marmee depicted in that book is too good, too saintly to be real. This author saw beneath the veneer and gave the women flesh and blood.

In the end I loved this story of a naïve dreamer going to war and having to face his own shortcomings, and learning the lesson of what is important in life. March by Geraldine Brooks deserves it’s Pulitzer Prize, and is a book I am proud to have share the shelf with the original Louisa May Alcott novels about this family.
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LibraryThing member andreablythe
I didn't realize this was a new spin on Little Women until I picked up the book. While I loved the 1994 Little Women movie, I didn't actually read Louisa May Alcott's book until I was an adult and by that point I found it far too goody-goody and moralizing. So, I don't think I would have picked up this book, if not for the fact that I loved Geraldine Brooks' People of the Book so much.

Instead of following the March girl's lives as they wait for their father's return from the Civil War, the story is told from the point of view of Robert March as he tries to minister to the troops and help emancipate and educate slaves. The story explores the brutality of war, the racism of the North in its approach to freeing blacks, and the impact the war has on March's physical and mental state. In the same way that Alcott based the Little Women on her real-life sisters, Brooks based Robert March on Alcott's father, who was a radical liberal. Mr. Alcott was firmly for Emancipation and was a vegetarian, who founded a Utopian commune that failed, because its inhabitants refused to kill the infestation of worms invading its apple crops.

Brooks is a wonderful writer. The style is clear and vivid in its portrayal of the Civil War South. And though the story is far more brutal, bloody, and graphic than the children's book it's based on, Brooks managed to capture the thread of that moralizing tone, which was just under the surface of every description, so that the novel felt as though it fit neatly within the fictional realm of Little Women.

One of the things that fascinated me about the novel and kept me interested was the ways in which Robert March lied in his letters home to his wife and his Little Women. It's understandable that he would not want to worry them with the true turmoils of war and it sets up and interesting duality between his home life and the life he now lives on the battlefield.

I don't know how to talk about this book without talking about bits from the ending, so WARNING: spoilers ahead.

Spoiler 1 — At the end of the novel, when March is on his sickbed and nearing death, the POV switches to his wife and we see how Robert misunderstood her feeling and how she misunderstood his. It's a wonderful moment (in literature, but hard on the characters) that shows just how easy it is to mistake people and how you can love and know someone for years and not really understand them.

Spoiler 2 — Throughout the story, I was a bit annoyed by Robert March and his wife, both of whom were avidly for Emancipation to the point of being almost too noble, too good, coming across as great white heroes of the Civil War. This was especially evident in the way March feels about one slave he meets named Grace, who has been educated and who he makes into a symbol for what the "Negro" can become.

At the end of the story, when March is wracked with guilt and insists on finding someway to make himself useful to Grace, she turns him down. She tells him that she doesn't need him, that the blacks need to be able to take care of themselves, and that the best thing he can do is to go home and preach emancipation and equality to other white people.

I can't even tell you how relieved I was to see this scene presented and it was that moment that really brought me from liking this novel to loving it.
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LibraryThing member lauralkeet
"Then what, pray, is the point?" His voice was a dry, soft rattle, like a breeze through a bough of dead leaves.
"The point is the effort. That you, believing what you believed -- what you sincerely believed, including the commandment 'thou shalt not kill' -- acted upon it. To believe, to act, and to have events confound you--I grant you, that is hard to bear. But to believe, and not to act ... That is what would have been reprehensible." (p. 258)


Louisa May Alcott's classic, Little Women, describes a year in the life of a mother and her daughters, while her husband is away serving in the Union Army. The father is absent for most of the book. In March, Geraldine Brooks brings the father's character to life and tells the story of that year from his point of view. Mr. March is a clergyman, so while he does not experience combat directly, he ministers to the wounded and dying. Initially, after a harrowing battle scene, he finds himself on a plantation that he had first encountered as a young itinerant peddler. Old relationships are rekindled, and he is reassigned to another regiment, and transported to a Southern estate under Union occupation. The slaves on this estate were under Union protection, and Mr. March was to provide them with the basics of an education. The novel's pace picks up at this point, and becomes considerably more violent as the horrors of war are revealed. March eventually lands in hospital, is visited by his wife Marmee, and returns home for Christmas just as he does in Little Women. In March we gain much more intimate knowledge of how the war scarred him, both physically and mentally, and how it affected his relationship with Marmee.

I was hooked on this story from page 1. Scenes from the American Civil War were interspersed with narrative describing how Mr. March came to be married to Marmee, their participation in the Underground Railroad, and his motivation for joining the Union army. He wrote letters from the front but, reluctant to burden his family with his daily horrors, he masked the truth. Marmee, on the other hand. felt lonely and resentful: "I am not alone in this. I only let him do to me what men have ever done to women: march off to empty glory and hollow acclaim and leave us behind to pick up the pieces." (p. 211) Their reunion was touched with both sadness and hope.

In letting her imagination run around the edges of Little Women, Brooks has written a memorable novel. Highly recommended.… (more)
LibraryThing member Cariola
I seem to have had this book on my shelf forever, and I'm not sure why it has taken me so long to get around to it. As everyone probably knows, this is an imagined background story to Alcott's Little Women: instead of focusing on the daughters, about 3/4 of the novel is about the March family patriarch, and the last quarter is told from the point of view of Marmee, starting when she goes to the union hospital to nurse her desperately ill husband. Mr. March, bolstered by his wife's near-fanaticism, is an ardent abolitionist--to the point that he has lost his fortune to John Brown's schemes. Even so, he still believes in the cause, in part due to his encounters years earlier with an inteligent, attractive young slave and her brutal master. An influential pastor, March encourages the young men of Concord to enlist in the Union cause, and his guilt ultimately drives him to enlist as well. His civil war service begins by ministering to the soldiers on the field, but he is later assigned to teach freed slaves how to read and write on an experimental communal farm. When Marmee rushes to Washington to nurse her husband, who is suffering from a deadly fever, she has to come to grips with his secrets and her own guilt.

Brooks has obviously done her research here: the book comes alive with real-life characters, including Brown, Emerson, and Thoreau, and the pictures she draws of the nation at war, both on the field and at home, are powerful. The March parents lose some of their ever-optimistic facade--but that's perhaps a good thing. Here, they become real people, caught up, as so many Americans were, in the fury of the civil war and its effects on the individual, the family, and the nation.

The writing here is as fine as it was in Brooks's earlier novel, Year of Wonders (which remains my favorite). Strongly recommended.
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LibraryThing member tututhefirst
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.
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LibraryThing member theageofsilt
I must confess a weariness with novels set during the Civil War. All the slaves are beautiful and all the slave children are above average. The plantation-owners wives are silly or insane and the men are cultivated, but unprincipaled. The novel is a "Heart of Darkness" meets "Little Women". March is the father of the "Little Women" household and modeled on Alcott's real father, Bronson Alcott. The descriptions of battle and hospitals are gripping, but I felt like I had read it all before.… (more)
LibraryThing member turtlesleap
In the children's classic, "Little Women," Mr. March is a minor character, far from the center of the action but emotionally important to the family. "March" brings him front and center and shows us an entirely different sort of man than we may have imagined. Brooks has loosely based her character on Alcott's own father, drawing the character and personality of March from her imagination. He is a man about whom one might charitably say, "His intentions were good." So they were, but the character falls far short of the idea portrayed in "Little Women." He is a man deeply flawed, weak, misguided and yet fundamentally kind and decent. Brooks' interpretation of "Marmee" was still more disturbing. The character in "March" simply did not square with the character in "Little Women."

On the plus side, Brooks did a fine job of even handedly presenting the squalor,horror and sadness of the Civil War and a good job of underlining the obliviousness of the typical19th Century man to what was close the heart of the women in his life. Still, if you want to read Brooks, try "Year of Wonders." It's simply a better book.
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LibraryThing member Doey
Disgraceful that this book won the Pulizter. Where does Brooks get the idea that Marmee's name was actually Marmee as opposed to what her children called here. She takes liberties with the orgininal that are without basis and defiles the classic.
LibraryThing member Ambergold
I wish I could say that I enjoyed this book. After all, as a Pulitzer-Prize winner loosely based on a character from Little Women, and written by Geraldine Brooks, whose vision brought a glow to Year of Wonders, it had everything going for it. Imagine my shock and horror then when I picked it up, settled down for a long, rich read, and looked up after two pages with a dreadful sinking feeling. For anyone who read and loved Little Women as a child, this book is not merely a travesty - it's a nightmare. And for anyone who loves good literature, it's that worst of all things - a book that should be magnificent, and isn't. Quite apart from the fact that the moral, upright, warm and loving father and dedicated army chaplain from Little Women is transformed into a womanizing, lying, deceitful, weak man whose only real belief rests in a complete disillusionment with the world(a character quite incapable of being the center of a classic)the entire novel is written in his voice, one of the few I've ever encountered that inspired an actual loathing in me. Brooks' style in this book, conveyed through this man's endlessly self-pitying, whining, and over-formal point of view, is strained and ultimately intensely unconvincing. These flaws in character and style could even have been forgiven however had not this entire book been written with one apparent purpose, and one only - to propagate a particular agenda. Every author, particularly the great ones, conveys in their novels some deeply held belief or question. But what makes them great is that their vision, their novel, transcends the narrow limits of this purpose - they write for all humanity, and thus deal with issues and characters that speak to and of all humanity. March is a narrow, self-limiting book utterly consumed with the self-absorption of its narrator and the mindless cruelty, racism, and godlessness which the author apparently believes were a characteristic of many, if not most, of the people in the Civil War, particularly but not limited to the soldiers of the Northern side. Attacking what has often been seen and projected as the "good" side - the North, in this case, and the whites, is a writer's trick that has been used before to gain attention, but never with this particular brand of blatancy; a reverse form of stereotyping. It's a book written for the times, hence the Pulitzer, but will last no longer than the few years it takes for the world to forget that it once won the highest award the literary world has to offer. With the memories of many of the other great past Pulitzer-winning novels, from Sophie's Choice to The Hours, hovering close in my mind, this book is an insult to all good literature.… (more)
LibraryThing member cmbohn
I just finished this one today and it took me forever! Like many girls, I read Little Women as a child and loved it. I read all the books in the series. So you might think a book about one of the characters would be very appealing to me. And so it might, but not this book.

Reverend March is always the most obscure of the family in this series, as he is away at war when the book opens. So Geraldine Brooks has lots of room to imagine a new story for him. She opens the book with March in the middle of battle in the Civil War.

Now naturally, a book mostly about the Civil War would not exactly be cheerful. But it wouldn't necessarily be depressing and feel like a chore to read. That's exactly how I felt reading this book. I know lots of people have said good things about it. But I didn't like it at all. I didn't like the central character all that much. I did feel that he was a moral man, trying to stand up for what he believes in a very complicated situation. But I didn't like him. And I was unhappy with the interpretation Brooks gives to the whole March household.

I'm not sure if I'll read any more by this author, but it sure wasn't what I expected and I'm glad to be done with it.
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LibraryThing member kambrogi
I have heard conflicting reports on this Pulitzer Prize winner. It’s a literary spinoff – a contemporary novel that focuses on the absent father in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. The story opens on the Civil War battlefield and flashes back to the early life of this fictional father, his youth as a farmer and then a peddler, his relationship with a black slave, his later marriage to Marmee and the birth of his four “little women.” He is a complex character, sometimes foolish, too idealistic or too cowardly, but ultimately fully human and sympathetic. In realistic but readable 19th century language, through both letters and narration, March’s account helps us understand his unusual, intelligent and self-willed wife, and a short section allows us into her thoughts, as well.

Brooks has done her usual excellent research, and so gives us an accurate but fresh picture of various aspects of the Civil War period. She bases her portrait of March largely on Louisa May Alcott’s father, Bronson Alcott, and fills in the picture with considerable investigation of the horrific non-battlefield aspects of the war in the south, as well as life in the middle-ground of Washington, DC, and the familiar New England world of Alcott/March’s home, peopled by real historical figures that he knew: Thoreau, Emerson, and John Brown. A fascinating read.
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LibraryThing member Citizenjoyce
Could you hold to your ideals if to do so caused you some physical discomfort? If it caused you embarrassment? If it cost you your fortune? If to do so could result in your death? Some people would say yes to all four. Could you hold on to your ideals if to do so would cause physical discomfort, embarrassment, financial loss or even death to your friends, family or many other people? When is holding on to ideals not idealistic but just an expression of pride? Geraldine Brooks says in an interview, “Moral certainty can deafen people to any truth other than their own” .

When Louisa May Alcott wrote Little Women she based the characters on her own mother and sisters. In writing March, Geraldine Brooks uses the absent father from Little Women as her main character, and bases him on Louisa's real father Bronson Alcott. Alcott was a famous 19th century radical vegetarian utopian. He impoverished his family by using his money to support various causes. Brooks read many of Alcott's diaries and letters, and even used his own words in a letter her character writes to his wife. She, and Louisa May, have March going off to the Civil War even though he was 40 – a little too old to be with the young fighting men. Alcott was in his sixties during the Civil War, so he did not fight, but there was no better situation in which to show the challenge to idealism than war. The Civil War is viewed by most people (except some Southerners) as a justifiable war, a war for a humanitarian purpose, but Brooks shows that war, any war challenges the ideals of people involved, at least it challenges the ideals of people who have them. Some people in the book are shown to have no ideals, so no conflict. If they want to have a thing or kill a person, they go for it and crush anyone in their way. Some other people are found to have fine ideals for themselves and those they think of as their peers but no problem seeing other people as merely animate property. The moral, idealistic people in the book are the ones challenged on all levels even on levels they weren't aware of. When speaking of how she works to keep her family alive, Marmee (March's wife) says, “I had tried to bear the small insults and indignities of poverty, even to embrace, as he did, the virtues of a simple life. But where he might retire to his study and be wafted off on some contemplation of the Oversoul, it was I who felt harassed at every hour by our indebtedness and demeaned by begging credit here and there; I who had to go hungry so that he and the girls might eat. Oh, he gardened to put food on our table, and chopped wood for others when the larder was truly bare. And what praise he won for it: 'Orpheus at the plow,' Mr. Emerson hailed him. (No one thought to attach such a poetic label to me, though I might wear myself to a raveling with the hundred little shifts necessary to sustain us all.)”

Marmee ( which I always thought was some stupid way of saying Mommie but find is really the nickname for Margaret Marie) and March are shown to be very passionate people who share a philosophy of social justice and even renovate their homes to become a stop on the Underground Railway. Their friends are (Ralph) Waldo Emerson and Henry Thoreau. They meet and become entangled with John Brown. Marmee has an explosive temper. There's a character modeled after Harriet Ann Jacobs, author of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself. There are scenes of medical carnage and neglect from Louisa Alcott's Hospital Sketches, there are battle scenes from the viewpoint of the grunts. A large part of the book is set on a leased farm in the South run by an ignorant Northerner where “contrabands”, slaves who escape or are freed by the war, are supposed to be paid for their work for the first time in their lives. A portion is set in Washington DC where stench filled muddy streets and crowded boarding houses are contrasted with elegant homes. In March practicality is contrasted with realism, ideals are contrasted with immorality, life is shown to be almost unbearably complex. This book and its imperfect characters filled my mind, and may even enable me to read Little Women without cringing.
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LibraryThing member streamsong
No wonder simple men have always had their gods dwell in the high places,. For as soon as a man lets his eye drop from the heavens to the horizon, he risks setting it on some scene of desolation.” p 4

This is the spin-off story of Robert March, the father of the four girls in the 1864 classic Little Women. In that book we see Mr March only as a shadow figure; we know he's a chaplain in the Civil War and eventually lies ill in a hospital. Not many details are given.

In this Pulitzer Prize winning imagining of his life, Geraldine Brooks has created his backstory as well as given a fresh look at events surrounding the Civil War.

In many ways Ms Brooks patterned Robert March's life after that of Louisa May Alcott's own father, Bronson Alcott.

But March is also true to Alcott's vision of the husband and father in Little Women as Brooks depicts a philosopher more comfortable with the thoughts of his Transcendentalist friends than with deeds. Guided by his hopeful visions, March often jumps impulsively into events such as supporting John Brown's idealistic agrarian venture or impetuously joining the Union Army.

As in Little Women, the women in the book are the strong characters, the heroes who pick up the pieces.

Geraldine Brooks is married to a Civil War historian and did large amount of research on this era, giving what I felt was a fresh look at lesser known history. As always, I enjoy Geraldine Brooks' writing and ability to tell a tale. While some in my book club criticized the story as too far-fetched and coincidental, I give it a solid four stars.
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LibraryThing member maryreinert
I realize that a fair amount of liberty has been taken with the historical accuracy of the times, but the sense that this period in our history was sad and "messy" comes through clearly, and is, in my opinion, a truthful rendering. The characters of Concord such as Thoreau and Emerson and March's wife, Marmee, provided an interesting look at the passion of the abolitionists. Marmee's reaction to the freed Blacks in Washington DC and especially her impression of Grace prove that it is much easier to love an idea rather than people. Mr. March is a weak character, but it's a rare individual who can always do the right thing when trapped in time of war with all its fear and suffering.

A reader certainly doesn't have to be a fan or, or have even read Little Women. This stands on its on.
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LibraryThing member melissavenable
Told from the perspective of Mr. March, father of the Little Women, the history of the March family is recounted, particularly Mr. (Capt.) March's experiences as a Union Chaplain during the Civil War. The story is full of the history of the time - the underground railroad, military hospitals, plantation life pre and post war - but not in a romantic way. March's struggles and questions of conscience are wrenching. The author provides a detailed afterword providing insight into her sources and inspirations, among them the Alcott family, that is as interesting as the book itself.… (more)
LibraryThing member bell7
Have you ever wondered what happened to Mr. March of Little Women while he was away at war? This story fills in that gap. In first-person narration and lovely prose, March tells his own story of being a Civil War chaplain in 1861. During a battle, he is unable to save one of his comrades while he makes his own escape. He finds himself at a plantation that he knew years ago from his days as a peddler, and remembers the plantation owner, Clement, and his slave, Grace, as they were twenty years ago. His heartbreaking descent from high-minded idealist to disillusioned soldier reads realistically. March finds himself unable to communicate the horrors of war to his wife, if only to try to keep her and his daughters from heartbreak.

I have mixed feelings about this book. The writing was lovely and the research detailed, so I can see why it won a Pulitzer. I didn't entirely agree with the way the author reinterpreted the characters of Little Women, though I enjoyed the differing point of view and forcing myself to think of the characters in a new light. And though I can hardly fault the book for this, the harsh aspects of war and the effect it had on March's psyche left me feeling rather depressed; though the story is not devoid of hope, it is much sadder than I tend to like.
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LibraryThing member Jemima79
Geraldine Brooks has written such a full and rich story in so small a book. I almost put it down after reading the first few pages because the writing was so descriptive that I felt as if I was amongst the wounded soldiers in the civil war (and I am very squeamish). I am glad that I pressed on though because the book was unique and enlightening. It tells the imagined story of Mr March of Alcott's Little Women. It is by no means an imitation of Alcott's style or content though. Brooks story is tragic, intense and 'real' in it's portrayal of the human condition. "March" examines the morality of the intellect alongside the passions and failings of human nature… (more)
LibraryThing member bowerbird
Like most children I loved the Little Women books as a child. Never thought much about the adults. Well they certainly seemed to have had very high ideals but what a humourless set they were. This book does give an interesting and different view of the American Civil War, but it doesn't compare with Gone with the Wind. I doubt if this one is destined to become a classic.… (more)
LibraryThing member msf59
First of all, I have never read "Little Women" but that does not diminish my immense admiration for this author's ambition. In the beloved classic, the father has enlisted in the Union Army and is off-stage during the entire narrative. Brook's recreates his journey,with both heartfelt and gut-wrenching detail. She captures the horror of war and racism with unflinching prose. This book snagged a Pulitzer and I wholeheartedly agree that it was worthy choice! Highly recommended!… (more)
LibraryThing member njmom3
My book club selected this book, and I started to read it. However, I love love love Little Women and decided that I did not want the somber reality of March to cloud my thoughts about Little Women. Very serious and somber. Perhaps realistic but too much so for me.
LibraryThing member avilas
To qualify, I did not finish this book. Hoping that this novel would form the perfect marriage of modern Pulitzer and commentary on classic literature (see "The Wide Sargasso Sea"), I instead found a mediocre historical fiction that disregarded the original novel. First, the character of Mr. March is inaccurate to the March of the novel. He's based on Alcott's father, but it is widely believed that Alcott's Mr. March is actually a counter to her real father. The March family Unitarians? Laughable. Transcendental? Despite the most recent film adaptation: absurd. When Mr. March and Marmee joined a dinner party of Thoreau and Emerson, I put the book down. Instead of interpreting the male side of the original story, Brooks attempts to explain away the heart of the March family for modern readers. Because I hope to read the classic again some day, and likely to any children I may have, I chose to sacrifice finishing "March" to maintain the purity of the original. If you think, however, that I am wrong and ought to give this book a second chance, please let me know. :)… (more)
LibraryThing member CarmenMilligan
First let me say that I really struggled with giving this one three looks. After all, there are many, many better books, in my opinion, which have also received three looks from me. However, it wasn't really a stinker, so I didn't want to give it two looks.

With this review, I am going to go Clint Eastwood on you.

The Good
Brooks' writing is beautiful. Her way with words, sentence structure and vocabulary is stunning. The flow of the story, details in the action, insight into the characters ... it is all very satisfying. Here are two quotes I loved:

"A sacrifice such as his is called noble by the world. But the world will not help me put back together what the war has broken apart."

"How easy it was to give out morsels of wise counsel, and yet how hard to act on them."

The Bad
This, in my mind, is not great story-telling. The premise of giving us a look at a character on the periphery of one of history's best-loved books is brilliant. Since the characters in Alcott's "Little Women" are patterned on real people, it makes sense that Brooks would use the Alcott patriarch as a guide. However, he was so irritating that I could not help but be disappointed. I will get to that in a moment.

I would like to talk about Grace. I appreciate that Grace was taught to read, but I hardly think Brooks' license to present this house slave as regal and educated was realistic. And not just educated by her mistress; Grace sounded matriculated! I am sure she could have had some presence, but to say to Mrs. March, "He loves, perhaps, an idea of me: Africa, liberated. I represent certain things to him, a past he would reshape if he could, a hope of a future he yearns toward," almost made the laugh out loud. It was not in the least credible.

When an author loses credibility in one area, and to this extent, it starts to unravel in other places.

The Ugly
If Brooks' goal was to have her reader come to despise Mr. March, she was 100% successful with me. A yellow-bellied, loquacious, pretentious, selfish milquetoast is how I saw him. I became so disgusted with his whining about not doing anything important that I almost wished the fever would take him. He went to war on an impulse, the men with whom he served hated him, and he fled almost every time he had the chance. He was so high on his self-righteous horse that he couldn't see what a hindrance he was to almost everything. The fact that he was able to secure supplies for the "contraband" Negros on the plantation was of little saving grace. Especially when he was instrumental in getting most of them later killed.

His family was destitute because of him, his wife's heart was broken because of him, Beth probably inherited her weak constitution from him, and on and on.

This is the second Pulitzer Prize winning book that I have read and disliked (see my review of Jennifer Egan's The Goon Squad). As a matter of fact, the more I ruminate over March, the more apt I am to change my review to 2 looks. Yes, I think I will.

However, I will read others by Geraldine Brooks. Her "People of the Book" alone is reason to read more. And while I can't recommend "March", I highly recommend you read her other titles.

Not recommended.
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LibraryThing member sarah-e
This story of Mr. March far surpassed my expectations. I knew I would enjoy it - I have loved Little Women for a long time and was eager to see one of the book's lesser characters brought to life. Brooks does not merely bring Alcott’s character to life. She creates a man full of humanity and idealism, as an "inconstant, ruined dreamer," who feels guilty for his inability to save the entire world. The portrait is at times unflattering but ultimately realistic. Despite the fault-finding of March that readers and other characters may be prone to, the book does not entirely tear him apart. March is complex; he struggles to fit in as an army chaplain, to understand the world as a traveler in the antebellum and civil war south, and to return to life as a husband and father after months of exposure to illness and atrocities of the war. Brooks also elegantly weaves elements of Little Women and of Alcott’s life into her original story. This work is truly inspired and inspiring.

Little Women was the story of his daughters, told by a character who saw her parents as heroes. Alcott presents the March parents as paragons of virtue, but this is a child’s vision. Brooks presents March as a human with past lives, hypocrisies, intentions and motives beyond anything Jo or the other girls could have imagined.

At times I wanted to throw this book across the room, but I always came back to it, desperate for another piece of March’s story. I recommend this book to anyone who read Little Women and wants to view the March parents from a matured perspective.
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LibraryThing member HunyBadger
I expected to like this since I'm a big fan of Little Women and the whole series of books by Alcott. However, through most of the book I found the main character distasteful: full of pride, ego and hidden selfishness. His lack of direction was annoying and his motivations blinded. I wondered why this author had won a Pultizer.

As I neared the end though, I realized that Mr March had truly become a "real" character, just as flawed as a human (not just a one dimensional character on a page). Geraldine Brooks masterly made me fully believe in the character. As I finished, I still found him distasteful but I saw how she had convinced me of the "realness" of his actions and thoughts. It happened so surreptitiously, so quietly that I wasn't even aware of it until reflecting on the book later. This is quite a talent.… (more)
LibraryThing member mrstreme
What happens to a family when a husband and father goes to war? Many books explore this question, and one of the most famous is Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. But what about the husband and father - how is he impacted by the war during and after the battles are fought? For these questions, we can rely on the fantastic storytelling of Geraldine Brooks and her Pulitzer-winning March.

In this novel, we learn about Mr. March who was away during Little Women, which offered a creative canvas for Brooks’ story. March, an active abolitionist, enlisted as an army chaplain at the beginning of the Civil War. His service took many twists and turns before he ended up on a Yankee-controlled plantation, where he taught former slaves how to read, write and do math. While there, he fell victim to “the fever” and later a bullet, which forced him to a hospital in Washington, D.C.

Readers of the original Little Women may envision Jo’s father to be a docile, patient, kind-hearted man who made more good decisions than bad. Furthermore, one might expect Marmee March to be the typical antebellum wife and mother – silent, obedient and sinless. Brooks took a different path with these characterizations, however, in March. March was, in fact, very fallible whose idealism cost him (and his family) their fortune and almost March’s life. Marmee March was an impulsive hot head, constrained by the societal and marital norms of her time. Together, their marriage had secrets and miscommunications, which sounded very “normal” to me. Other readers may prefer Alcott’s original depictions, and if you’re one, I recommend skipping March because you will feel frustrated by the Marches.

While this story explored slave conditions and the horrors of the Civil War, the war’s toll on March left the biggest impression. He emerged hopeless and depressed. I think of war veterans now and realize that nothing has changed. We need to do a better job in helping our service men and women when they return to civilian life – whether we agree with the war or not. To me, that’s the biggest lesson I learned from March. The affects of war are timeless, and if you are interested in the social and psychological impacts of war on men, women and children, I would recommend March to you.
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