Reviews of "The March"
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Author:  Chris OConnor [ Sun Nov 20, 2005 3:17 am ]
Post subject:  Reviews of "The March"

From 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 by Maureen Corrigan

Audio Review

From 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."

Hear the author

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.

Author:  Chris OConnor [ Sun Nov 20, 2005 4:20 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Reviews of "The March"

From by Roberta O'Hara

E.L. Doctorow's body of work is an impressive collection of fictionalized Americana. From BILLY BATHGATE to THE WATERWORKS to RAGTIME, Doctorow's central narrative themes have always had a uniquely American historical perspective. Now with his tenth novel, THE MARCH, he adds not only to his robust literary library but also to the growing library of work set (in whole or part) during the Civil War that includes giants such as Margaret Mitchell's GONE WITH THE WIND and Alex Haley's ROOTS.

And it may be Doctorow's most graphic depiction of a time period yet. THE MARCH is the retelling of one of the United States's most infamous military campaigns --- that of Union General William Techumseh Sherman's destructive march in the final months of the Civil War through Georgia and South Carolina. Sherman said it himself: War is hell. Doctorow has never shied away from the ugliness of life in his fiction, and his latest novel is no different. He spares nothing in his depiction of the fleeing plantation owners and newly freed slaves, of Americans terrorizing their fellow countrymen as they rape, pillage, burn, and sacrifice one another and their belongings for some higher ideal. Take lives to save lives; a classic dilemma of life and literature. THE MARCH shares horrifying images of homes being mindlessly gutted, animals being slaughtered, soldiers being tortured, all the collateral damage of war.

And while the devastation of war itself is front and center, it is the many characters' telling of the events and feeling its ramifications that grounds the story at the human level. There is fair and aptly named Pearl, the bastard child of a slave mother and white master who struggles to find her rightful place amongst the blacks and whites. There is Dr. Wrede Sartorius (who first appeared in THE WATERWORKS), the brilliant but deranged battlefield medic who eerily predicts the medical future as he precisely severs irreparable limbs.

There is also a Confederate soldier who steals a Union uniform and "joins" the North to save his own life, disregarding his former beliefs. There are freed slaves who know nothing more than to follow the rampaging military that they hope will lead them to a better life. And there is Sherman himself. Depressed, wrathful and an insomniac, he wages terror on the innocents because they are, by chance, on the wrong side of the war --- his war.

War is hell. Doctorow reminds us that the Civil War is perhaps the greatest example of man turning on man, brother on brother, in history. Doctorow takes no sides; he treats black and white, southerner and northerner, man and woman, equally. In THE MARCH, we are all equal --- that is, equally capable of inflicting the cruelest of inhumanities upon one another, equally capable of feeling loss at the core of our very beings.

THE MARCH is without doubt the story of the ravages of war, but more importantly, it is the story of man's eternal struggle with his own impulses, fears and needs.

--- Reviewed by Roberta O'Hara

Author:  AnnetteS [ Sun Nov 20, 2005 5:52 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Reviews of "The March"

Chris, thanks especially the chance to hear Doctorow read on NPR. Wonderful!

Here is a link to multiple reviews:

There is the impulse for me to skim, as I don't want a spoiler, but they are also enriching.

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