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(March: A Love Story in a Time of War) By Geraldine Brooks (Author) Paperback on (Mar , 2006) (Anglais) Broché – 1 mars 2006
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His life demystified breathes even more life into his Little Women.
An unforgettable story.
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Brooks takes the well known story of Little Women (Louisa May Alcott) and weaves a tale centering on the absentee father and husband, Peter March. March starts out as a Yankee peddler, but the abolitionist movement eventually spurs him on to become a preacher. He marries Marmee, and they have four daughters. Alcott's father, Bronson Alcott, provides the blueprint for the Reverend March, and his good friends are Concord neighbors Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. When the Civil War begins, March feels it his duty to enlist-even though he well past the age of the average soldier.
March is a man of high ideals and unreachable dreams, but his many flaws keep him from always acting in a noble or heroic manner. His efforts during the war are both heart warming and tragic. Brooks gives us a glimpse of some little-known aspects of the war including the running of seized plantations by northern men and former slaves (contraband). Sometimes conditions weren't much better than working under southern plantation owners. We also get to see a bit of the abolitionist movement as well as the Underground Railroad.
Brooks writes March in the first person (all but several chapters in Peter's voice). You can read each sentence and feel the beauty of 19th Century written and spoken words. But sometimes, this becomes plodding and the plot is slow to develop at the beginning. I can imagine some readers giving up. Also, while I thoroughly enjoyed March, I might have had an even greater appreciation if I had read Little Women.
The Afterword provided a good chuckle. Brooks' husband is Tony Horwitz of Confederates in the Attic. She apparently loathed his extensive Civil War research. But in the Afterward, she apologizes for refusing to get out the car at Antietam, for whining about the heat at Gettysburg, and for complaining about the shelf space needed to house his Civil War book collection. To our benefit, it now appears that she has been bitten by this same obsessive bug
Coupled with scrupulous research of the time period and her wildly creative imagination, she fashions a riveting tale. She captures the sights, the sounds and the smells of a long-gone period of time that has shaped America forever. Some of it is based on the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau who were friends of Louisa May Alcott's father. And I do believe she encapsulated perfectly the historical realities of the time, especially in Concord, where abolitionist families hid runaway slaves in an underground railroad and there was constant intellectual discussion about the politics around them.
We get to meet Mr. March as a young itinerant Connecticut peddler in the South years before the Civil War. He's in the bloom of youth and attracted to a slave girl. Inevitably, he gets to sees first-hand the injustices of slavery.
Later, we watch him romance and eventually wed the outspoken Marmee. We see his joy at the birth of his four daughters, and watch his faith rise as his fortunes get fritted away with misplaced investments in John Brown's failed ventures, cumulating in the tragedy at Harper's Ferry which was supposed to be a slave rebellion. All this is told in flashback, as he writes letters home to his family, hoping to spare them the horrors that he sees every day during the War.
There were aspects of the Civil War story I had never heard of before. For example, as a Union Chaplain and teacher, Mr. March was sent to a plantation that had been abandoned by its Southern owner and became a refuge for runnaway slaves. A northerner had leased it and was actually paying the former slaves a wage although their treatment under this new plan was not much better than under the old system. Also, the man who had leased the plantation seemed at first to be cruel and unjust, but as the book continued, we soon learned of his hard choices and he turned into complex and interesting character.
I was totally swept up in the story and couldn't put the book down despite the occasional feeling I had that some of the history was a little too revisionist. But this is a novel and not a true story, and the writer's view of the world is through modern eyes. I understand and do forgive her for this just because the story was so good.
In spite of its faults, I loved this novel and was sorry to see it end. Recommended, especially for history buffs and fans of Louisa May Alcott.
A learned man who has traveled the country in his youth, Mr. March is later content to raise his four daughters in a pastoral landscape in Concord, Connecticut, with esteemed neighbors and fellow philosophers Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. For her part, Mrs. Marsh (Marmee) is an abolitionist in spirit and action, while many northerners are still mired in discussions about the morality of slavery. A long-time member of the Underground Railroad, Marmee is fondest of her husband's nature when he supports her anti-slavery convictions with equal fervor.
Although older than most Union soldiers, Marsh joins the war effort as a chaplain. Broad-minded to a fault, March extends comfort to the injured and dying, torn by the violence around him and the extreme youth of soldiers on both sides. While Marsh believes the war is motivated by the noble effort to free the slaves, he is not oblivious to other realities involved and many of the Union soldiers are there by conscription.
The dialog is perfect, relative to the era and prone to prodigious verbiage. Nor is March suffering from a lack of moral persuasion, so conscience-riddled as to be a bit of a bore, rich in character if not in goods. However, excessive wordiness is also the flaw in this novel, an exercise in moral demagoguery that is appropriate to the age, but often tedious and lacking in passion. One wants March (and his beloved Marmee for that matter) to be a bit more human. For every flawed decision March agonizes over, he suffers equal self-flagellation. Even after a nearly mortal illness, March perseveres, pulling himself together lest his family be sullied by his faults.
On the positive side, the naive beliefs of the abolitionists are examined, revealing the barbarism and sadism that exist in any war. There is profit to be made, exploitation of the unfortunate and greed in excess, regardless of noble intent. Prejudice is not constrained by geography, righteousness a flagrant cloak, frequently hiding the truth of war.
Most of the novel is in first-person perspective, but final chapters are from other viewpoints, Mrs. March and the ex-slave, Grace Clement, where the novel finally comes to life. If only the entire book offered this occasional change of perspective. Instead, March carries the burden of the plot; unfortunately, it is the reader's burden as well. Brooks is an excellent writer, with the potential to enliven historical perspective. In future novels, I hope the author's characters are allowed to breathe humanity into the facts that cost the blood of thousands. Luan Gaines/ 2005.
Brooks wries that her novels are about "faith and catastrophe"; this was true of THE YEAR OF WONDERS, but it comes much closer to home here. While ostensibly filling in the story of the fictional March father from LITTLE WOMEN, absent with the Union army in the Civil War, Brooks goes way beyond some literary what-if. Extending the quasi-autobiographical nature of Alcott's book, she draws upon the real-life character of the novelist's father, Bronson Alcott, a transcendentalist philosopher, educator, and utopian idealist, the friend of Emerson and Thoreau. But since this is fiction, the character may be made younger and emotionally vulnerable, thrust into the fighting, and, even more searing for him, brought into contact with the "liberated" slaves on former plantations. The result is to expose the moral ambiguities of the war and slavery in a manner approaching the power of Edward Jones' THE KNOWN WORLD, and test the emotional honesty and moral courage of this noble but imperfect man of peace almost to breaking point.
A rich and complex book, highly recommended. For further discussion, see my review of E. L. Doctorow's THE MARCH.
Geraldine Brooks has filled in those gaps in the narrative and introduced us to the people of the underground railroad. Those who used it & those who provided it are revealed in this wonderful novel. Revealed as well, are the things seen, heard & experienced by Mr. March (the father in "Little Women") as he moves from battlefield to schoolroom to fugitive in this soul stirring tale. If you've ever wondered what it was like to be a soldier in battle, read this book. But even more so, if you've ever wanted to know more about the personal side of slavery before & after the Civil War you will want to read this illuminating tale. If you thought you knew about people's attitiudes about Blacks, think again; this book sheds new light on the current attitudes of the day. Don't you ever wonder how the freed slaves made it out of bondage to living life on their own? Do you ever think about how difficult it must have been to do that? It is nothing short of miraculous.
Martin Luther King said, "Discrimination is a hellhound that gnaws at Negroes in every waking moment of their lives to remind them that the lie of their inferiority is accepted as truth in the society dominating them."
How do you succeed when everyone thinks that of you? This book will open your eyes to their pain.
Mr. March went off to war as one kind of man & came back home as quite another; changed totally physically & spiritually by the things he both witnessed & participated in. There is no way that he just returned to the bosom of his family & resumed his life as usual. The same can be said of anyone who has seen the things he has seen. The story is as true today as it was in the 1860's. This is a lesson well learned & a book worthy of your time. If you love to read as I do, you too, will be changed by the message of this book.