four-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
19-Nov-Dec-2005
user_rating: 
0

A-MarchIn 1864, Union general William Tecumseh Sherman razed Atlanta. He then marched his 60,000 troops through the South, where they fought Confederate forces, pillaged towns and plantations, raped women, freed black slaves, and let flames devour the landscape from Atlanta to Savannah. In this panoramic story, Doctorow focuses on the individuals affected by war—ordinary and famous, women and children, rebels and unionists, freed slaves and plantation owners. Each represents the era’s bloody moral battlegrounds: Pearl, the detested daughter of a slave and slave owner; a Union surgeon; an opportunistic Confederate soldier; and many others. "War is cruelty," Sherman said. "There’s no use trying to reform it. The crueler it is, the sooner it will be over." But in this story of destruction, there is a chance for love, compassion, and unlikely ironies to prevail.
Random House. 364 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 0375506713

Chicago Sun-Times 4.5 of 5 Stars
"A connivingly understated work that at times suggests a meeting of Catch-22 and The Red Badge of Courage, The March arises from that special place in our collective sensibility where the human drama meets the human comedy—where tragedy can turn to farce, or be upstaged by it, in the most revealing ways. . . . This is a book that would stay with you without the help of today’s headlines." Lloyd Sachs

Christian Science Monitor 4.5 of 5 Stars
"If there is a heart to the novel, it belongs to Pearl, whom Doctorow gifts with preternatural dignity. . . . The most graphic passages . . . are reserved for Sartorius’s work, where Doctorow shows off his historical knowledge of 19th-century brain surgery." Yvonne Zipp

Rocky Mountain News 4.5 of 5 Stars
"[Doctorow] assembles a crowded, ethnically and socially diverse cast of both fictional characters and actual historical figures, and shuttles them about in an extraordinarily complicated, one might say even baroque and Dickensian, plot that is fueled as much by coinciden[ce] and happenstance as it is by necessity." Duane Davis

USA Today 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Through [Pearl], Doctorow conveys all the twisted emotional/sexual wounds that slavery introduced to the Southern psyche, black and white. . . . For the many Americans who want to understand this profound experience that continues to shape our attitudes and actions today, The March offers stunning insight." Deirdre Donahue

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"[A] serious novel that is at the same time entrancing fun: a panoramic vision of war filtered through its disorders; often brutal and, at times, oddly human. . . . Engendered by a masterful fictional imagination, each character plays out vivid scenes of drama, irony or comedy." Richard Eder

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"It is Mr. Doctorow’s achievement in these pages that in recounting Sherman’s march, he manages to weld the personal and the mythic into a thrilling and poignant story. He not only conveys the consequences of that campaign for soldiers and civilians in harrowingly intimate detail, but also creates an Iliad-like portrait of war as a primeval human affliction." Michiko Kakutani

Critical Summary

Critics call The March an unequaled success, reminiscent of Doctorow’s classic Ragtime in spirit and The Red Badge of Courage, War and Peace, and Gone With the Wind in grand scope and "churn and boil of a plot" (Rocky Mountain News). Rather than focusing on the causes of war, Doctorow shows how the chaos of battle affected individual lives—from losing a limb to losing one’s sanity. The character Pearl, who in a twist of fate wreaks satisfying revenge, appealed the most. Yet Doctorow paints all characters—real and imagined, from Pearl to the mercurial, purposeful Sherman—with deep psychological depth. Despite its horrific themes, the novel suggests that human drama and comedy are often one and the same. A few critics caught some anachronistic slipups; otherwise, The March will go down as one of the best Civil War-era novels.