Friday, June 18, 2010

Book Review: March by Geraldine Brooks

March by Geraldine Brooks
Publisher: Penguin
Publication date: March 2005
ISBN: 9780143036661
Source: Library

This is the unwritten story of Mr. March, father of the more famous four girls in Little Women.  While still a young idealist, peddling wares in the South, Mr. March meets Grace, an educated black woman with a fiery spirit.  He gets his first taste of the horrors associated with slavery while there.  Now, as an enlisted chaplain in the Union army, Mr. March must reconcile his idealist feelings with the harsh realities of war and the brutality of mankind.  While his wife and four daughters try to survive on very little, he must try to survive at all and conceal the real terrors that he faces both on the battlefield and off.

Things I Liked:
The writing really is beautiful - the descriptions pull you right into the action where you smell, feel, see, and experience all that the characters do (much to my dismay in reading about battles).  Brooks creates compelling situations and characters that are good but flawed, people who make mistakes.  I love the final part of the book where we get to see Marmee's reactions to everything and hear what she has to say about what her husband has done and experienced.  Marmee was without doubt my favorite character - I really liked when he remembered how she was when they first met - fiery and full of passion.  The book describes, without excuse, the daily brutality of war and of slavery during the Civil War.  Powerful and moving in its gruesome details.  Also, I couldn't help but fall in love with some of the idealist sentiments mentioned in the book.  Here are some favorite quotes:

"I've always imagined paradise as something like a library." p 17
"But, sir, surely the very condition of enslavement, not the slaves' inherent nature, must account for such lapses of honor.  The heart is a crimson organ, be it within white breast or in black, and surely wickedness may dwell alike in either." p 25
""I am, indeed, a 'chapel man,' who carries within himself all that's needed for worship.  At last, it is possible to have a part in faith without carved pulpit or Gothic arch, without lace altar cloth and without robes, save my suit of unornamented black." p 58
"But perhaps one day I will be entrusted with daughters of my own, and if so, I swear I will not see their minds molded into society's simpering ideal of womanhood.  Oh, how I would like to raise writers and artists who would make the world acknowledge what women can do!" p 64
"The brave man, the real hero, quakes with terror, sweats, feels his very bowels betray him, and in spite of this moves forward to do the act he dreads...Sometimes, true courage requires inaction; that one sit at home while war rages, if by doing so one satisfies the quiet voice of honorable conscience." p168
"You cannot right injustice by injustice.  You must not defame God by preaching that he wills young men to kill one another.  For what manner of God could possibly will what I see here?  There are Confederates lying in this hospital, they say; so there is union at last, a united states of pain." p 210
"I hoped so hard that Hope seemed to take corporeal form, my thoughts and wishes reaching out to him and wrapping themselves around him, as avidly as my body had wrapped around him when we both were young.  I wanted to transplant my vivid spirit within his depleted one, to root out the memories that troubled his sleep and sow in their place a vision of every good moment we had spent together.  So I sat by his bed, all day and into the evening, whispering reminiscences of sunlit days and crisp fall apples, of girlish laughter and great minds brilliant with new ideas." p 255
Things I Didn't Like:
I really hated Mr. March.  He was not a likable person and it makes you wonder, sometimes what his wife saw in him, other than a foolish idealist.  Also, it was too graphic for my tastes - I'm sure it was accurate and entirely true to the experiences of war, but I don't really have the stomach for it.  My book group really loathed the book in general (though most of them hadn't finished the book when we came to discuss it).  The fact that Mr. March didn't exactly fit into the character we all imagined from Little Women really turned everyone off from it.  I found that I could enjoy it more if I forgot that fact.  Also, we figured that some of the dislike was because of our personal beliefs and not because of the book's lack of merit.  I'm kind of torn on this one - while recognizing its merit and beauty, I really didn't enjoy it.  

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott is related (obviously)

s-factor: !@
a few

mrg-factor: XX
a couple of scenes

v-factor: ->->->->->
quite graphic, quite common

Overall rating: ***

How do you rate well-written by not so enjoyable (for you) books?
If you buy through my Amazon linkage, I will get a very small percentage


  1. I like how well you articulated your thoughts on this one. I felt similarly, though I would say I definitely enjoyed it overall. Mostly because of the last third. Man, when Marmie is suddenly there and all sorts of awesome. I wish she'd been there more. I wish it had been more about her. I thoroughly disliked him as well. But I admired what Brooks did with the whole thing. I just wasn't involved in it until the end.

  2. Angie, I thought Marmee was the best part too. I might have liked it more if it was more about her too. And thanks!

  3. I'm with you on this book! I hated Mr. March too. He was not likable. I detested the fact that he cheated on Marmee. The descriptions were amazing, but I felt that Mr. March was completely different than the Mr. March we came to understand in Little Women.

  4. Funny: the objections of your book group were precisely my objections; I couldn't divorce myself from the original, which is sad because I've really liked her other books.

  5. Michelle, that made me so angry too! Interesting to create an entire book about such a jerk.

    Melissa, I'm sure there are a lot of Little Women purists who didn't like it. This was my first Brooks, so maybe I should give her another try?

  6. I definitely think you should try Brooks again. I really enjoyed Year of Wonders.

  7. I am sortry most of your book club wasn't fond of this one. I haven't read it but a few of my friends have recommended it and I definitely plan on reading it soon (hopefully!).

  8. I felt very much the same way. It just didn't fit the mood of Little Women that I loved. I'm sure her purpose was to bring a bit more reality into the story, but I'm happy forgetting reality in this instance!

  9. Michelle, thanks for the recommendation!

    reviewsbylola, hopefully you will enjoy it more than we did.

    Shelley, I'm with you on Little Women - definitely March brings just a bit too much reality for me. :)


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