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Thursday, March 13, 2008

The March by E L Doctorow

Having read other books by Doctorow, I expected that I would like The March. Add to that my interest in the Civil War, and this was sure to be a book that couldn't miss the probably-will-end-up-being-a-page-turner target for me. But when I initially begin reading a Doctorow book, it always takes a chapter or two before I get into his rhythm and the page turning gets serious. The March was no exception to this rule for me, but I've learned, over the years, to hang in there with Doctorow, and I haven't been disappointed yet.

The March is the story of General William T Sherman's march through Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. Doctorow does a good job of describing the horrific nature of that March for everyone it touched. His descriptions of what it was like for those states before the Union soldiers arrived, what it was like after they got there, and what happened to some of those people when the army moved on was riveting.

Through a number of well drawn characters, Doctorow brings alive the Civil War period in American history. The stories he weaves around the slave girl who could pass for white, the Southern woman who sought to make her life count for something by becoming the nursing assistant to a Union doctor, the heart breaking story of a woman whose husband is dead and whose young sons, children themselves, have gone off to fight a war they don't understand, the slaves who have no idea where to go or what to do now that Sherman has freed them -- all these stories blend together to present a composite of a terrible time and the various ways in which people managed to survive it.

There are a few problems with the story. There is one plot point in particular that seems very contrived in an otherwise believable narrative. But, in spite of that, I still enjoyed this book and recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction and particularly E L Doctorow.

This novel isn't just about the US Civil War. It's about any war, and at this particular time in history, that's very relevant.

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