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The March: A Novel Paperback – September 12, 2006


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The March: A Novel + Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 363 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (September 12, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812976150
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812976151
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.3 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (226 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #61,705 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com 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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

E. L. Doctorow's novels include The March, City of God, The Waterworks, Welcome to Hard Times, The Book of Daniel, Ragtime, Loon Lake, Lives of the Poets, World's Fair, and Billy Bathgate. His work has been published in thirty-two languages. Among his honors are the National Book Award, three National Book Critics Circle awards, two PEN/Faulkner awards, the Edith Wharton Citation for Fiction, the William Dean Howells Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the presidentially conferred National Humanities Medal. E. L. Doctorow lives in New York.

Customer Reviews

For those who enjoy historical fiction, I highly recommend this book.
Literary MC
I had a hard time keeping up with the many characters; would have preferred fewer with more story development for the remaining.
thing two
As he has before, Doctorow tells his story using both real and fictional characters, real and fictional events.
debra crosby

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

223 of 247 people found the following review helpful By Leonard Fleisig 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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17 of 17 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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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By J. Marren VINE VOICE on November 20, 2005
Format: Hardcover
A sprawling epic of Sherman's march through the South, Doctorow's story once again illustrates why the effects of the Civil War endure in our country to this day. In part because it was fought on our own soil, in part because the North and South were such totally different cultures, and of course because the issue of race remains a burning one even today, the Civil War continues to fascinate. Reading Doctorow's story, it's hard to imagine that Sherman's march covered a mere 60 miles--its effects were so brutal and deadly. The Civil War occurred at a time when the weapons of modern warfare had emerged--repeating rifles, cannon and shells decimated thousands, but medicine was in the dark ages. Much of the story takes place just behind the lines in the medical units, where the distant Wrede Sartorious operates with cold-blooded efficiency, while an ever-changing cast of assistants and nurses make futile efforts to staunch the blood and ease the pain.

Doctorow's characters shift in and out of the story as Sherman's juggernaut makes its way through the countryside. Freed slaves, camp followers and whites whose homes have been destroyed by the army attach themselves to the rear of the army expecting to be fed and protected because they have no place else to go. Black men who still need the cover of a white "boss," black women passing for white, lost children, sheltered white women cut loose from their protective coccoons all tag along, until one wonders how Sherman could move at all.

Like all war stories, one becomes hardened to the blood and gore of it all, and yet Doctorow won't let us forget.
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