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The March: A Novel 1st Edition

284 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0375506710
ISBN-10: 0375506713
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Editorial Reviews Review

As the Civil War was moving toward its inevitable conclusion, General William Tecumseh Sherman marched 60,000 Union troops through Georgia and the Carolinas, leaving a 60-mile-wide trail of death, destruction, looting, thievery and chaos. In The March, E.L. Doctorow has put his unique stamp on these events by staying close to historical fact, naming real people and places and then imagining the rest, as he did in Ragtime.

Recently, the Civil War has been the subject of novels by Howard Bahr, Michael Shaara, Charles Frazier, and Robert Hicks, to name a few. Its perennial appeal is due not only to the fact that it was fought on our own soil, but also that it captures perfectly our long-time and ongoing ambivalence about race. Doctorow examines this question extensively, chronicling the dislocation of both southern whites and Negroes as Sherman burned and destroyed all that they had ever known. Sherman is a well-drawn character, pictured as a crazy tactical genius pitted against his West Point counterparts. Doctorow creates a context for the march: "The brutal romance of war was still possible in the taking of spoils. Each town the army overran was a prize... There was something undeniably classical about it, for how else did the armies of Greece and Rome supply themselves?"

The characters depicted on the march are those people high and low, white and black, whose lives are forever changed by war: Pearl, the newly free daughter of a white plantation owner and one of his slaves, Colonel Sartorius, a competent, remote, almost robotic surgeon; several officers, both Union and Confederate; two soldiers, Arly and Will, who provide comic relief in the manner of Shakespeare's fools until, suddenly, their roles are not funny anymore.

Doctorow has captured the madness of war in his description of the condition of a dispossessed Southern white woman: "What was clear at this moment was that Mattie Jameson's mental state befitted the situation in which she found herself. The world at war had risen to her affliction and made it indistinguishable." And later, " This was not war as adventure, nor war for a solemn cause, it was war at its purest, a mindless mass rage severed from any cause, ideal, or moral principle."

As we have come to expect, Doctorow puts the reader in the picture; never more so than in recalling "The March" and letting us see it as a cautionary tale for our times. --Valerie Ryan

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Sherman's march through Georgia and the Carolinas produced hundreds of thousands of deaths and untold collateral damage. In this powerful novel, Doctorow gets deep inside the pillage, cruelty and destruction—as well as the care and burgeoning love that sprung up in their wake. William Tecumseh Sherman ("Uncle Billy" to his troops) is depicted as a man of complex moods and varying abilities, whose need for glory sometimes obscures his military acumen. Most of the many characters are equally well-drawn and psychologically deep, but the two most engaging are Pearl, a plantation owner's despised daughter who is passing as a drummer boy, and Arly, a cocksure Reb soldier whose belief that God dictates the events in his life is combined with the cunning of a wily opportunist. Their lives provide irony, humor and strange coincidences. Though his lyrical prose sometimes shades into sentimentality when it strays from what people are feeling or saying, Doctorow's gift for getting into the heads of a remarkable variety of characters, famous or ordinary, make this a kind of grim Civil War Canterbury Tales. On reaching the novel's last pages, the reader feels wonder that this nation was ever able to heal after so brutal, and personal, a conflict.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 363 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1st edition (September 20, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375506713
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375506710
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (284 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #293,703 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

E. L. Doctorow's works of fiction include Homer & Langley, The March, Billy Bathgate, Ragtime, The Book of Daniel, City of God, Welcome to Hard Times, Loon Lake, World's Fair, The Waterworks, and All the Time in the World. Among his honors are the National Book Award, three National Book Critics Circle awards, two PEN/Faulkner awards, the Edith Wharton Citation for Fiction, and the presidentially conferred National Humanities Medal. In 2009 he was short-listed for the Man Booker International Prize honoring a writer's lifetime achievement in fiction, and in 2012 he won the PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction, given to an author whose "scale of achievement over a sustained career [places] him . . . in the highest rank of American literature." In 2013 the American Academy of Arts and Letters awarded him the Gold Medal for Fiction.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

244 of 269 people found the following review helpful By Lonya VINE VOICE on October 12, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Mark Twain often blamed, not without some reason, the onset of the U.S. Civil War on the writings of Sir Walter Scott. Scott's romantic view (Twain called them Scott's enchantments) of war, chivalry, and honor colored southern culture to such an extent that war became inevitable. Any lingering romantic notions about war were put to rest by General William Tecumseh Sherman's march through the south. Sherman's view of war was simple: war is brutal and it must be fought with brutality and overwhelming strength if victory is to be achieved. Sherman's often brutal march through the south forms the centerpiece of E.L. Doctorow's "The March". Both havoc and the `dogs of war' form the underlying background against which the novel's plot plays itself out.

In a recent discussion about "The March" Doctorow stated that he intended to give the book a "Russian feel". In that he has succeeded. The broad canvas painted by Doctorow, a multitude of characters (both real and fictional) who meet, interact, and depart while war is waged all around them does contain stark similarities to Leo Tolstoy, Boris Pasternak, and Vasily Grossman. Doctorow's unique voice and style allows him to impart this "Russian" flavor to a novel about the Civil War without it seeming imitative or derivative. The March is an original and entertaining piece of work.

There are a host of characters in the book. Some, like Sherman, appears throughout. Others, who shall remain nameless, make an impact on the reader and advance the story but suffer untimely fates. As with any war untimely deaths are the rule rather than the exception.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Justin Mclaughlin on March 19, 2007
Format: Paperback
The March dramatizes Sherman's terrific coup de grace on the Confederacy. The novel weaves together many disparate characters, including a white-skinned slave, an Irish enlisted man, 2 rebel turncoats, a Union doctor, dispossessed plantation owners, a British journalist, a photographer and his protégée, several Union Generals [including Sherman], and a few soldiers who meet their ends along the way.

The book has some outstanding passages about the march itself, how it can be seen as a living organism unto itself, or even a roving civilization. Also, Doctorow has written fine, balanced dialogue; this seems to me an extremely difficult task, but somehow Doctorow has his characters sound exactly right -- not too antiquated or too modern. Add to this the author's obvious assimilation of the historical milieu and you've got the raw materials of a great novel. But, wait ... not quite.

Perhaps the book's greatest shortcoming was intended to be its greatest strength: the vast array of characters. Although we can see why they are there [to present unique perspectives to better understand the great events], they are not given enough space to fully, deeply flourish. Another problem is that the narrator's omnipotence bleeds into the characters, making them at times seem less characters and more representations of historical forces. Thus the reason for writing a novel, instead of a history, is lost. It seems to me that fiction should allow us complete entry into another time and place, with all the prejudices and limitations of that experience. This novel never does that. Instead the reader feels "taught" the material, and is always aware of the distance between when the book is written and the events taking place within it.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on September 24, 2005
Format: Hardcover
When the huge Union Army of General William Tecumseh Sherman burned its way from Atlanta to the Carolinas in 1864 - 1865, it was accompanied by a motley group of freed slaves, entrepreneurs, the dispossessed wives and children of landowners, and even a few turncoats, all of whom saw this army as their protection from the hostile unknown. E. L. Doctorow, in his absorbing novel about this march, focuses on the marchers themselves--their varied interests, conflicts, fears, and goals--creating a powerful and panoramic vision of how civilians, as well as soldiers, responded to the devastation of this terrible war.

Through a series of dramatic vignettes, Doctorow reveals the characters' family lives and stimulates reader interest. Mattie Jameson, the wife of a cruel slaveowner, has closed her eyes to the horrors of slavery, but when her estate is burned, her husband killed, and her 14- and 15-year-old sons conscripted to fight for the Confederacy, she has nowhere else to go. Pearl, whom Mattie describes as "that horrible child," is the mulatto child of her husband John Jameson and one of his slaves, and Pearl, too, becomes a marcher, disguised at a drummer boy.

Emily Thompson, the elegant daughter of a Georgia Supreme Court Justice, helps Dr. Wrede Sartorius, a Union regimental surgeon, renowned "for removing a leg in twelve seconds [without anesthesia]. An arm took only nine." Two turncoats, the devious Arly and the naïve Will, serve as the primary comic relief, opportunistically trading uniforms to suit their circumstances.

Real people mix with fictional characters, giving life to the narrative and a sense of immediacy to the action.
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