Presented by Kaye Lavin 17 March 2011
As the War Between the States 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. Sherman’s march produced hundreds of thousands of deaths and untold collateral damage.
In The March: A Novel, 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. 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. Sherman is a well-drawn character, pictured as a crazy tactical genius pitted against his West Point counterparts.
The characters depicted on the march are those people high and low, white and black, whose lives are forever changed by war. Most of the many characters are equally well-drawn and psychologically deep, including Pearl, a newly freed slave whose father was her former plantation master; Colonel Wrede Sartorius, a German born army surgeon; Arly and Will, two Confederate soldiers whose appearance and reappearance in Union and Confederate uniforms is both amusing and ultimately suspenseful; Stephen Walsh, a Union soldier who finds himself spending a lot of time with Pearl; and Emily Thompson, a dispossessed Southern white woman who ends up as a nurse to Dr. Sartorious.
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.
Information from reviews on Amazon.com