I’ve been intending to read March, by Geraldine Brooks, for awhile now. I first brought it up way back in January of ’06, when I was pretty new to blogging, and was thinking of books I might like to read. Well, I went book shopping, and intended to buy it, but they didn’t have it, so I grabbed another book by the same author, Year of Wonders, which I really liked. Finally, I bought March, but I put it on my bookshelf, and then it got packed away with 99% of our other books, and is now all cozy in our rented storage space, in an attempt to convince prospective buyers we don’t live with clutter, and thus, they won’t either if they just buy this house. So…I put it on not one, but TWO reading challenges, and grabbed it from the library. I started it last week, and I was hooked!
If you’re familiar with Little Women, the story by Louisa May Alcott, you know it is the tale of a year in the life of the March daughters, Jo, Meg, Amy, and Beth, and their mother, Marmee, and their growth and changes while their father is away at war. Mr. March is an abolitionist preacher who has gone along with the Union army in the Civil War, hoping to provide spiritual solace to the troops, and to ‘walk the walk’ that he has been talking for so long, about the sacrifices required to defeat the scourge of slavery. (And no, he would never say something so modern as ‘walk the walk’…that was mine.) His story is told partially in the form of letters home to Marmee and the girls, partially in his remembrances of his past, and partially in his telling of his current trip with the troops. He talks of his journey into the South when he was a young man of 18, how he was seduced for a short while by the beauty and gentile life led by the plantation owners there, and how he was disabused of his perceptions of their gentility. He came back North a more fervent abolitionist, and became a preacher. He tells of his meeting and the short courtship of his wife, Marmee, a much more fervent abolitionist than he. He tells of his dealings with John Brown, and what those dealings cost him. It is an intriguing story.
Toward the end of the story, he is layed low by fever, and Marmee is called to help him, just as happens in Little Women. At this point, the story changes to Marmee’s perspective for a few chapters, and we see that some of the assumptions that Mr. March has made, assumptions with repercussions deep and final, and based on his beliefs of what Marmee wanted and admired in a husband, were indeed false assumptions.
The part of the story that is told in the present tense, of his trip with the troops, and his time spent on a plantation that is being run by a northerner, with slaves who have been freed and are for the first time hoping to by paid for their labor, is heartbreaking and wonderful at the same time.
Brooks did extensive research on the period and on the Alcott family. The part of Mr. March is based upon Alcott’s father, a transcendentalist who kept company with the likes of Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, both of whom play parts in March.
I enjoyed this book quite a bit, both for the writing, and for the glimpse of the abolitionist movement it gave. It was also nice to return, briefly, to the world of Little Women. Actually, when I returned March to the library yesterday, I checked out Little Women, in the hopes that Maya will enjoy it as much as I did.