Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Book Review: March by Geraldine Brooks

Title: March
Author: Geraldine Brooks
Published: January 2006 by Penguin Books
(Amazon / Goodreads)

Synopsis: Winner of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize For Fiction. From the author of the acclaimed YEAR OF WONDERS, an historical novel and love story set during a time of catastrophe, on the front lines of the American Civil War.

Acclaimed author Geraldine Brooks gives us the story of the absent father from Louisa May Alcott's Little Women - and conjures a world of brutality, stubborn courage and transcendent love. An idealistic abolitionist, March has gone as chaplain to serve the Union cause. But the war tests his faith not only in the Union - which is also capable of barbarism and racism - but in himself. As he recovers from a near-fatal illness, March must reassemble and reconnect with his family, who have no idea of what he has endured.

A love story set in a time of catastrophe, March explores the passions between a man and a woman, the tenderness of parent and child, and the life-changing power of an ardently held belief

So this is basically Little Women month here at My Thoughts Literally. It was supposed to be retellings but I've read more books about Little Women than retellings. One could argue that this is a retelling but it's more a companion novel. March is a look into the life and history of a character in Little Women who didn't receive much attention, Mr. March.

I've previously read a different work by the author, Geraldine Brooks, and I really enjoyed the story she was able to create by blending fact and fiction. In the case of March that was no different. Her writing is beautiful and lyrical and draws you into the struggle of the characters and their experience in a difficult time. In the case of March I didn't quite get the sense of wonder that I had in People of the Book but I was able to immerse myself in a beautiful and thought-provoking story steeped in history. Like Little Women, it is philosophical without being to preachy. It handles some difficult concepts with care and makes you question a lot of different things.

March, as a winner of the Pulitzer Prize, had a Literary Fiction type of feel to it. It's a character-driven story about a progressive idealist in the American South during the Civil War and witnessing things that reinforce his feelings of equality and the injustice that the slaves suffer. It's a very different kind of Civil War story. It is not about the battles, nor is it really even about soldiers. It's more about the contrast of between life in the South and life in the North at the time. It's about the different attitudes people feel about slavery and the conflict those attitudes can result in during that time of war. Like all good Lit Fic, Geraldine Brooks creates a story that is both interesting and makes you think. It balances Mr. March's experience during the war with the story of his past, including his first time in Virginia and how he met his future wife. Speaking of Marmee, we also get a period of the book from her perspective as well and it was fantastic to see her in her own words.

In addition to the elements of Lit Fic, Brooks also balances the book with elements of Historical Fiction. Like all good books in the genre, it was well-researched and balances the imaginary with actual moments and figures of history. And one of those historical figures is Bronson Alcott, Louisa May's father, who the original character was based on. The Alcotts ran with a circle of transcendental reformers, writers, and philosophers in Concord and this is the circle that the Marches interacted with in the book. People like Thoreau, Emerson, and even John Brown made an appearance and helped created the world and historical context for the book. But it's essentially a book about the Civil War and it incorporates many elements of the culture and history of the time.

The author has also done a fantastic job creating the character of Mr. March. In Little Women he is only viewed through subtext and on the periphery but here he takes center stage as a fully-fledged and interesting character all his own. As I've already mentioned, the original character is based on Bronson Alcott, but there's a great balances between his life, knowledge of the character from Little Women, and something brand new. Mr. March, like his daughters, is far from perfect. He has lessons to learn and mistakes to make along the way. He doesn't quite have the redemptive character arc but he is still sympathetic and interesting. But Mr. March isn't the only character from the original novel that gets a little more screen time. As a big fan of Little Women, my favorite thing about the book and it's characters was the additional references and moments with some favorite characters like Marmee and Beth.

March is a definite read for fans of Little Women. It gives us a more gritty look at the historical time period and the characters of that beloved Classic. Geraldine Brooks has managed to write a beautiful and interesting story that balances the history and well-loved characters with a plot that makes you think.

I give March by Geraldine Brooks 8.5 out of 10 

Buy/Borrow/Bypass: Buy/Borrow. Fans of Little Women should add this book to their collection as should fans of Literary Fiction. This book has won the Pulitzer Prize, and award that I usually have good luck with when it comes to Lit Fic so if you are like me then check it out.


  1. Sounds lovely. I love Little Women. I like the idea of showing the history side as well. I'm familiar with the author but don't think have read anything from her before.

    1. It was lovely! Especially if you love Little Women and Historical Fiction. I also really enjoyed that it showed more of the historical side. Little Women is great but it really doesn't deal much with the larger context of the world. Geraldine Brooks is a fantastic author. Her writing is very lyrical, you should check her out. I hope you do and that you love it!