Book Review by Mary Guss
April 12, 2007
The march referenced in the title is William Tecumseh Sherman's march across Georgia to the sea, then northward through the Carolina's, in the company of thousands of his Union soldiers. He is obviously one of the main nonfiction characters in the book. Depending on which other character is speaking of him, Sherman is either heaped with praise or villified:
(And how very Southern is that damning of Sherman?). He is, however, a rich and multi-layered character, grabing the reader's interest whenever he appears along the march. In fact, Doctorow makes one wish there were time to sit down with him over a leisurely lunch and learn all there is to know about him. Doctorow definitely thinks him a fascinating study. But he is claearly very human and beset with a host of human problems.
Not the least of those is what to do with the huge numbers of freed blacks who join his troops on their march. Just the logistics of feeding such large numbers on a daily basis is challenge enough. The bigger and unresolved challenge is where are they all to go and what are they all to do at the end of the war. Freedom alone is hardly an unmixed blessing to all those former slaves, who have to find new ways to make their own way in the world. This is not the history of your sixth-grade history book where all the slaves were freed and naturally thereafter all was well.
As they wrestle with their challenges, Doctorow introduces the most compelling of his fictional characters in this book. Watch as they grow into their own humanity in the face of the cold inhumanity of the war, as they adapt and grow through times that could scarcely be more difficult or narrowing, and see them reach out and connect with the most unexpected people.
The March snags the reader
and brings them irresistibly along in its path, through moments
of high and low humor, casual and not-so-casual bloodshed, love,
hate, hope and horror. It is storytelling at its best.
On the Web: