"Then what, pray, is the point?" His voice was a dry, soft rattle, like a breeze through a bough of dead leaves.
"The point is the effort. That you, believing what you believed -- what you sincerely believed, including the commandment 'thou shalt not kill' -- acted upon it. To believe, to act, and to have events confound you--I grant you, that is hard to bear. But to believe, and not to act ... That is what would have been reprehensible." (p. 258)
Louisa May Alcott's classic, Little Women, describes a year in the life of a mother and her daughters, while her husband is away serving in the Union Army. The father is absent for most of the book. In March, Geraldine Brooks brings the father's character to life and tells the story of that year from his point of view. Mr. March is a clergyman, so while he does not experience combat directly, he ministers to the wounded and dying. Initially, after a harrowing battle scene, he finds himself on a plantation that he had first encountered as a young itinerant peddler. Old relationships are rekindled, and he is reassigned to another regiment, and transported to a Southern estate under Union occupation. The slaves on this estate were under Union protection, and Mr. March was to provide them with the basics of an education. The novel's pace picks up at this point, and becomes considerably more violent as the horrors of war are revealed. March eventually lands in hospital, is visited by his wife Marmee, and returns home for Christmas just as he does in Little Women. In March we gain much more intimate knowledge of how the war scarred him, both physically and mentally, and how it affected his relationship with Marmee.I was hooked on this story from page 1. Scenes from the American Civil War were interspersed with narrative describing how Mr. March came to be married to Marmee, their participation in the Underground Railroad, and his motivation for joining the Union army. He wrote letters from the front but, reluctant to burden his family with his daily horrors, he masked the truth. Marmee, on the other hand. felt lonely and resentful: "I am not alone in this. I only let him do to me what men have ever done to women: march off to empty glory and hollow acclaim and leave us behind to pick up the pieces." (p. 211) Their reunion was touched with both sadness and hope.
In letting her imagination run around the edges of Little Women, Brooks has written a memorable novel. Highly recommended.
My original review can be found here.