From Salon.com by Laura Miller
In this kaleidoscopic rendering of Gen. Sherman's famous March to the Sea, the characters and metaphors come and go with all the tumult of the Union Army.
E.L. Doctorow's new novel, "The March," is titled after its main character, not a person, but an ongoing event -- or a catastrophe, depending on your perspective: Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman's famous March to the Sea, a scorched-earth campaign that plowed from Atlanta to Savannah, Ga., in late 1864, at the end of the Civil War. (Sherman's March is still the subject of bitter memory in the South, more proof that a war lingers longest with those who lose it.) Doctorow assembles a dozen or so characters who join in and drop out of the march at various points, each pursuing his own prize or fleeing her own nightmare.
The crowds that make up the march sometimes have wills of their own. Early on, a Union general forbears telling his soldiers not to trash a plantation house, knowing that "in the great mass of men that was an army, strange currents of willfulness and self-expression flowed within the structure of military discipline ... Even the generals issued orders for the sake of the record only." Still, the march hasn't really got a mind, and therefore it never quite qualifies as a protagonist.
From NPR.org by Maureen CorriganAudio Review
From NPR.org by Robert Siegel
For years, E.L. Doctorow thought that Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman's destructive march through Georgia and the Carolinas near the end of the Civil War would make for a gripping work of fiction. "That particular occasion, so devastating, so uprooting of an entire civilization, seemed to me a possible basis for a novel," Doctorow says.
Doctorow was inspired to write The March after reading Sherman's memoirs. Sherman was "a wonderful writer," the author says. "He and Grant were both wonderful writers. You don't find generals today who write that well."
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From Tampa Tribune by KEVIN WALKER
Epic in scope, E.L. Doctorow's "The March" drops readers into the carnage and horror of the "total war" the Union Army inflicted on Georgia and the Carolinas during the Civil War.
Doctorow ("Ragtime," "City of God") masterfully depicts the savage cruelty of war. He also provides, in heartbreaking detail, the origins of the racial divide between white and black Americans that began literally the moment slaves were freed.
Led by Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman -- a man depicted here as a sound military strategist torn by his son's death and the demands of his ego -- the Union Army destroyed town after town as it cut a swath from Atlanta to Savannah, Ga., then north into the Carolinas. They pillaged, burned and -- in some of the most terrible scenes of the book -- raped as they went.
The rape victims often were the very slaves they came to free.
By centering the novel on a large cast of characters whose lives are shattered by the march, Doctorow manages to make the events visceral to the reader.
The characters include: Pearl, daughter of a slave and a slave owner; Arly and Will, two Confederate soldiers who desert and join Sherman's army; Emily Thompson, daughter of a Georgia Supreme Court judge who finds her life destroyed by Sherman's army; Wrede Sartorius, a German immigrant who is the best surgeon with the Union Army; and Mattie Jameson, wife of a rich plantation owner who finds her mind slowly slipping as the war not only destroys her life but also uncovers its hypocrisy.
In keeping with the chaotic nature of the march, Doctorow jumps from one character's story to another, yet keeps the tale as a whole intact. There are plenty of close calls, thrilling moments and vivid descriptions of battles. But throughout, Doctorow offers haunting and often beautiful passages.
In one, Sherman contemplates how numb he and his men have become toward death. He watches while his troops, too exhausted after a battle to cart off the dead, simply fall asleep next to the fallen bodies.
"As a general officer I consider the death of one of my soldiers, first and foremost, a numerical disadvantage, an entry in the liability column. It is a utilitarian idea of death -- that I am reduced by one in my ability to fight a war ... But these troops, too, who have battled and eaten and drunk and fallen asleep with some justifiable self-satisfaction: what is their imagination of death who can lie down with it? They are no more appreciative of its meaning than I."
In another episode after the taking of Savannah, Union soldier Albion Simms has a spike driven into his skull from an explosion. It causes him to lose all memory, even forgetting what he said just seconds before. Simms unknowingly articulates the horror felt by the other characters with these simple words, said while he rocks back and forth, crying: "I can't remember. There is no remembering. It's always now. It's always now."
This book, already a best seller, should be praised for its vivid depiction of a watershed event in U.S. history. But it's the lyrical passages and full-bodied characters that will stick in the reader's mind long after the cover is closed.