In a Nutshell:
Many of you out there read the wonderful classic of the March girls in Little Women. If you recall, their father goes off to help in the civil war and leaves the family for a year. Then towards the end of the book, Marmee needs to run to Washington because they have news that their father is gravely ill in an army hospital. He does return home after some time to his family, but he plays a very small role in the book. What Geraldine Brooks has done is tell a tale of what Mr. March goes through as an army chaplain during the war. She tells of his brushes with danger with confederates, his past as an abolitionist, his life as a peddler during his youth, his stay at a cotton farm with freed slaves, etc. The other piece of the March puzzle is his marriage to Marmee, which Geraldine brings to life in this book. For most of this she uses historic records of Louisa May Alcott's father as base to start. Little Women is somewhat based on her own family, and Geraldine deduced that her father was probably the fictitious Mr. March. Coupling that with historic records of the war, and adding first hand understanding of relationships and love, and you have a rich, thorough story.
I was very intrigued by the premise of this book. Little Women was a favorite of mine. As I began reading, I was quickly sucked into the rough and tumble war-life that Mr. March was thrown in the middle of. It is a stark contrast from the lives his "Little Women" were living in Concord. Geraldine weaves past and present events adeptly to give you a deep understanding of Mr. March as a person with all his failings. She really
brings to life his relationships with his wife and with others around him, including a few slaves. What I liked was the raw and "imperfect" take she gives Mr. March. It is such a difference from Little Women where the girls were a little "goody-goody" and Marmee could have been canonized! I also like her "real" approach to the March marriage, complete with infidelities, misunderstandings, jealousies and forgiveness. She also weaves some other historic characters in the story, like the authors Wordsworth and T. Through records, it was a fact that Mr. Alcott was friends with these writers as well as other abolitionists. They add some texture to the story, not to mention the slaves Mr. March comes to know and help. You could say this book is the "grown up" version of Little Women. It was a great winter read.