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March

by Geraldine Brooks

Publishers Weekly Brooks's luminous second novel, after 2001's acclaimed Year of Wonders, imagines the Civil War experiences of Mr. March, the absent father in Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. An idealistic Concord cleric, March becomes a Union chaplain and later finds himself assigned to be a teacher on a cotton plantation that employs freed slaves, or "contraband." His narrative begins with cheerful letters home, but March gradually reveals to the reader what he does not to his family: the cruelty and racism of Northern and Southern soldiers, the violence and suffering he is powerless to prevent and his reunion with Grace, a beautiful, educated slave whom he met years earlier as a Connecticut peddler to the plantations. In between, we learn of March's earlier life: his whirlwind courtship of quick-tempered Marmee, his friendship with Emerson and Thoreau and the surprising cause of his family's genteel poverty. When a Confederate attack on the contraband farm lands March in a Washington hospital, sick with fever and guilt, the first-person narrative switches to Marmee, who describes a different version of the years past and an agonized reaction to the truth she uncovers about her husband's life. Brooks, who based the character of March on Alcott's transcendentalist father, Bronson, relies heavily on primary sources for both the Concord and wartime scenes; her characters speak with a convincing 19th-century formality, yet the narrative is always accessible. Through the shattered dreamer March, the passion and rage of Marmee and a host of achingly human minor characters, Brooks's affecting, beautifully written novel drives home the intimate horrors and ironies of the Civil War and the difficulty of living honestly with the knowledge of human suffering. Agent, Kris Dahl. 10-city author tour. (Mar. 7) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Copyright Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

School Library Journal Adult/High School-In Brooks's well-researched interpretation of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, Mr. March also remains a shadowy figure for the girls who wait patiently for his letters. They keep a stiff upper lip, answering his stiff, evasive, flowery letters with cheering accounts of the plays they perform and the charity they provide, hiding their own civilian privations. Readers, however, are treated to the real March, based loosely upon the character of Alcott's own father. March is a clergyman influenced by Thoreau, Emerson, and especially John Brown (to whom he loses a fortune). His high-minded ideals are continually thwarted not only by the culture of the times, but by his own ineptitude as well. A staunch abolitionist, he is amazingly naive about human nature. He joins the Union army and soon becomes attached to a hospital unit. His radical politics are an embarrassment to the less ideological men, and he is appalled by their lack of abolitionist sentiments and their cruelty. When it appears that he has committed a sexual indiscretion with a nurse, a former slave and an old acquaintance, March is sent to a plantation where the recently freed slaves earn wages but continue to experience cruelty and indignities. Here his faith in himself and in his religious and political convictions are tested. Sick and discouraged, he returns to his little women, who have grown strong in his absence. March, on the other hand, has experienced the horrors of war, serious illness, guilt, regret, and utter disillusionment.-Jackie Gropman, Chantilly Regional Library, VA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

Copyright Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Brooks imagines what happened to March, father of Alcott's little women. With a ten-city author tour. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Copyright Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Book list Brooks' first novel ( Year of Wonders0 , 2001) was a straightforward historical novel of the plague. For her second novel, she has come close to creating a new genre; she imagines the life of Captain March, the father in Louisa May Alcott's Little Women0 . This technique has been done before, most famously in Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea0 . Brooks, however, has combined this idea with two other genres, historical fiction and fictionalized biography. The results, however, are mixed. March appears, much like Bronson himself, as a man whose convictions tread a thin line between admirable and aggravating. He is pure to the point of being ineffectual, and noble to the point of stupidity. The nineteenth-century writing style is accurate and entertaining, but it may be too ornate for some readers. The best moments in the narrative are the peeks inside the mind of the long-suffering Marmee, and thus we learn where Jo gets her famous spunk. --Marta Segal Copyright 2005 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright American Library Association. Used with permission.