The March, by E.L. Doctorow
Posted on June 27, 2009
Leave a Comment
I seem to be going on a Civil War kick, so I read The March, by E.L. Doctorow. It is a novelization of Sherman’s march through Georgia and up through the Carolinas.
My family is a little bit too into the Civil War. My library, mostly sorted by fiction and nonfiction, also has my section of presidential biographies and my mother’s Civil War history. We are generally Fans of Grant, so reading a novel about Sherman was rather interesting.
The cast of characters is large and diverse. Besides the General’s staff and the Union soldiers, there are plenty of southerners and freed slaves and Confederate soldiers. There was even a war photographer. I thought I would have a hard time keeping track of them all, but it wasn’t a problem.
The narrative on the experience of the freed slaves was well done. Not heavy handed, but sensitive to the complexities. Should they stay or should they leave? Can they trust this “freedom”? Because they sure don’t feel safe. I really appreciated the complicated relationship between Pearl, the daughter of a slave and her master, and the guy’s wife. All this resentment, but a sense of responsibility, and even a weird sort of affection for this person that was her one present link to the only life she ever knew before.
I loved Sherman’s thoughts on Grant:
“He had secret thoughts, Grant, you always felt that about him. Such private feelings of presumed depth that an ordinary mortal could only aspire to. Sherman had a respect for Grant akin to worship, but t here was the assured thing about the man, that his private mind harbored no ill intent. He had no guile and no self-interest in this war, and that’s what was unsettling.”
I can buy that.
Lincoln himself made a brief appearance at the end. And I must say that I wasn’t expecting it, so the majestic effect really hit me. Smooth.
My only disappointment was the many loose ends. Where did the doctor go? Did Miss Emily really stay in Columbia. What happened when Pearl delivered Lt. Clarke’s letter?
Alas, the book was only about the March.