By Geraldine Brooks
First, let me admit it right up front.... I loved "Little Women" by Louisa May Alcott... I read it back when I was 10 years old and was immediately enraptured by all the characters in the story....especially Jo. I had a Great Aunt Josephine and after I had read "Little Women" for the first time (Of course I re-read it again and again), my mother confessed to me that she had almost named me Josephine for her Aunt. I was so furious that she had decided against it at the last minute... I was a "Jo-wanna be" .... I even had an attic hide-a-way where I read and wrote just like Jo... imagine even having her name! For some reason, my mother and father preferred Susan... and so I ended up being just one of up to 5 "Susans" in almost every one of my school classes as I grew up in the 50's and 60's.....
Why am I writing about "Little Women"? ... well the 7th book on my Big Book Read is entitled "March" and it focuses it's attention on a very minor, distant character in "Little Women", the father of the four March girls - "Mr. March", who was away at war doing his best to help the northern soldiers as a chaplain. In reality this character was based on Louisa May Alcott's own father, Bronson Alcott... a larger than life character who was a leading abolitionist, educator, and transcendentalist in Concord, Massachusetts in the mid-late 1800's.
Over-all, Mr. March's story is a stark one.... one that I imagine matches so many Civil war participants experiences... from the terror and death in the battlefields to the sad truths of the off-battlefield experiences... Mr. March marches into the war full of idealistic fervor. All too quickly the realities of war hit... the brusqueness of the soldiers of both sides, the utterly inhumane treatment of the Negroes by both the North and South..... He keeps writing his loving, sunny letters home even as he becomes more and more disillusioned, throughout a brief but deeply felt affair/relationship with a strong woman who happens to be a slave, culminating in a doomed partnership with a fellow northerner working on a cotton plantation with freed slaves.
March ends up near death in a Washington D.C. hospital and his wife, "Marmee", comes to care for him. He survives but is a changed man... damaged, disillusioned, guilt-ridden..... in many ways, a shell of of his former self. He returns home to Concord and his "little women" and slowly regains some of his former spirit ----- "You go on. You set one foot in front of the other, and if a thin voice cries out, somewhere behind you, you pretend not to hear, and keep going."
This book completely captured me. Ms Brooks writes beautifully and although, as I have said in this review , the story is dark and portrays some of the more disturbing aspects of life during the Civil War years, her simple yet eloquent prose makes the experience of reading this bookan uplifting one.