Geraldine Brooks is an Australian-born writer whose second book, the Civil War novel March, received the Pulitzer Prize in 2006. The book is inspired by Louisa May Alcott’s famous novel Little Women. March tells the story of the absent father. Right from the beginning of Little Women we know that the father is fighting for the Northern forces in the Civil War.
Jo said sadly, “We haven’t got father, and shall not have him for a long time.” She didn’t say “perhaps never”, but each silently added it, thinking of father far away, where the fighting was.
I’ve always meant to read one of her novels and this seemed a good choice. It will be interesting to compare this to Killer Angels.
Here are the first sentences
October 21, 1861
This is what I write to her: The clouds tonight embossed the sky. A dipping sun gilded and brazed each raveling edge as if the firmament were threaded through with precious filaments. I pause there to mop my aching eye, which will not stop tearing. The line I have set down is, perhaps, on the florid side of fine, but no matter: she is a gentle critic.My hand, which I note is flecked with traces of dried phlegm, has the tremor of exhaustion.
And some details and the blurb for those who want to join
March by Geraldine Brooks (Australia 2005) American Civil War, Novel, 304 pages
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.
The discussion starts on Monday, 31 March 2014.
Further information on the Literature and War Readalong 2014, including all the book blurbs, can be found here.