Poignant story--carefully crafted;
Two strong women--broken man;
Puritan morals--a Dr Zhivago style love triangle;
Ideals of a holy cause--realities of war;
Glorious march to war--hell on earth;
Happy home life of Little Women
--the untold part revealed;
A 20th century narrative--with 19th century dialog;
Survivor's guilt--self forgiveness.
The above are topics upon which I could elaborate while describing my emotional responses to this story. The complex mix of emotion and issues explored by this historical fiction raises it to the ranks of literary fiction. This book won the 2006 Pulitzer prize for fiction, and this is one instance where I agree with the judges.
The main character in this book is the father of the March family made famous by Louisa May Alcott's classic novel, Little Women
. This book tells of his experiences serving as a Union Army chaplain during the Civil War. In Alcott's book there is much concern expressed for his welfare and word is received of his being hospitalized and gravely ill. But his only appearance at home in the Little Women
story is at the end when he returns home on Christmas day. Because of this connection to a widely read classic novel, most readers begin this novel with extensive knowledge about this family and home life. But the primary focus in this book is on his experiences during the separation from his family.
The book begins with Mr. March's early years, his marriage and the rise of his financial fortune and the losing of it in vain efforts at supporting abolitionist, John Brown. Mr. March is described as being passionate, sensitive, idealistic, and willing to accept strong willed and intelligent women as intellectual equals. These are all admirable traits. Granted, he's not perfect in all things, but even his mistakes show him to be all too human.
When Mr. March entered the Army as chaplain during the Civil War, he was a principled believer in the Union cause. His experiences during the war had devastating impact on his self confidence and his assurance that war can be a positive force for good. By end of this story he is racked with guilt for the failure of his efforts to do the good that was intended. Similar symptoms today would probably be diagnosed as PTSD.
Many readers may conclude that Mr. March was a weak person to be so affected by his war experiences. I choose to think of him as a noble character. War is such insane activity that any participant who survives psychologically untouched must be a psychopath.
The author provides an epilog that explains the research behind the book. I appreciate authors that provide this insight. However, I still have some questions unanswered by the author (which I won't go into here).
The following is taken from PageADay's Book Lover's Calendar for January 27, 2008:
In Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women
, Mr. March was the absent father who was based in part on Bronson Alcott, Louisa May’s father. In Geraldine Brooks’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, we learn that March has become a Union chaplain and then a teacher of “contraband” slaves. His letters home are cheerful, but the reader knows that he is hiding the truth from the family. He experiences firsthand the suffering of the war and feels the futility of his efforts to ameliorate it. Mr. March has his own inner conflicts as well, and by the end of the novel he is a changed man. “It feels honorable, elegant and true—an adult coda to the plangent idealism of Little Women
,” said John Freeman in The Wall Street Journal.MARCH
, by Geraldine Brooks (Penguin, 2006)