Synopses & Reviews
In 1864, after Union general William Tecumseh Sherman burned Atlanta, he marched his sixty thousand troops east through Georgia to the sea, and then up into the Carolinas. The army fought off Confederate forces and lived off the land, pillaging the Southern plantations, taking cattle and crops for their own, demolishing cities, and accumulating a borne-along population of freed blacks and white refugees until all that remained was the dangerous transient life of the uprooted, the dispossessed, and the triumphant. Only a master novelist could so powerfully and compassionately render the lives of those who marched.
The author of Ragtime, City of God, and The Book of Daniel has given us a magisterial work with an enormous cast of unforgettable characters white and black, men, women, and children, unionists and rebels, generals and privates, freed slaves and slave owners. At the center is General Sherman himself; a beautiful freed slave girl named Pearl; a Union regimental surgeon, Colonel Sartorius; Emily Thompson, the dispossessed daughter of a Southern judge; and Arly and Will, two misfit soldiers.
Almost hypnotic in its narrative drive, The March stunningly renders the countless lives swept up in the violence of a country at war with itself. The great march in E. L. Doctorow's hands becomes something more a floating world, a nomadic consciousness, and an unforgettable reading experience with awesome relevance to our own times.
"Sherman's march through Georgia and the Carolinas produced hundreds of thousands of deaths and untold collateral damage. 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. Most of the many characters are equally well-drawn and psychologically deep, but the two most engaging are Pearl, a plantation owner's despised daughter who is passing as a drummer boy, and Arly, a cocksure Reb soldier whose belief that God dictates the events in his life is combined with the cunning of a wily opportunist. Their lives provide irony, humor and strange coincidences. 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, makes 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. 7-city author tour. (Sept. 20)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Doctorow patiently weaves...several...stories together, while presenting military strategies...with exemplary clarity....Doctorow's previous novels have earned multiple major literary awards. The March should do so as well." Kirkus Reviews
"Although the novel is less inventive, less innovative than his 1975 classic Ragtime, it showcases the author's bravura storytelling talents and instinctive ability to empathize with his characters..." Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
"[N]ever before has [Doctorow] so fully occupied the past, or so gorgeously evoked its generation of the forces that seeded our times....Doctorow's masterpiece uncovers the roots of today's racial and political conundrums..." Booklist (Starred Review)
"It is to the credit of this fine book, that Doctorow's words, his language, bring to life the terrible consequences of what happens when words fail and the fighting begins." Rocky Mountain News
"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..." Chicago Sun-Times
"Like the bloody and brilliant general who gave him his subject, Doctorow has refused to play it safe and for that we may all be grateful." Newsday
"[A] swift, page-turner narrative pace....Doctorow's novel is a must-read for anyone with an interest in these issues, and anyone with a penchant for serious and lasting literature." Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
WINNER OF THE NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD
WINNER OF THE PEN/FAULKNER AWARD
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
In 1864, Union general William Tecumseh Sherman marched his sixty thousand troops through Georgia to the sea, and then up into the Carolinas. The army fought off Confederate forces, demolished cities, and accumulated a borne-along population of freed blacks and white refugees until all that remained was the dangerous transient life of the dispossessed and the triumphant. In E. L. Doctorow’s hands the great march becomes a floating world, a nomadic consciousness, and an unforgettable reading experience with awesome relevance to our own times.
About the Author
E. L. Doctorow's work has been published in thirty languages. His novels include City of God, Welcome to Hard Times, The Book of Daniel, Ragtime, Loon Lake, Lives of the Poets, World's Fair, Billy Bathgate, and The Waterworks. Among his honors are the National Book Award, two National Book Critics Circle awards, the PEN/Faulkner Award, the Edith Wharton Citation for Fiction, the William Dean Howells Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the presidentially conferred National Humanities Medal. Doctorow lives in New York.
Reading Group Guide
1. Karen Woods and the Third Monday Book Discussion Group, Twinsburg Public Library
One of the most interesting subplots in The March is the relationship between Pearl and the Yankee soldiers who take her under their wings. Do you find these relationships believable? In particular, would a soldier such as Stephen Walsh really consider marrying Pearl, and possibly having a clearly mixed-race child, at this time in history?
The Yankee generals are beautifully drawn characters. Is General Kilpatrick a mostly an admirable or dishonorable man, given his role in history? Why did Sherman say he wouldn't trade him for anyone else?
2. Sally LeSage and The High Point Mom's Book Club, from Atlanta, Georgia
Sherman believed that his every move being reported gave him a disadvantage in the war. Many military leaders still feel that way today. Discuss the push and pull between the military and the "press," then and now.
Although the Civil War was fought over state's rights as much as slavery, Doctorow primarily addressed the effects of slavery and its abolishment on his characters during the march. Why do you think he chose this way of telling the story?
From the shrewd analytical mind of General Sherman, the stoicism of
Wrede Sartorius, the compassion of Emily Thompson, the feistiness of Pearl
and the comic relief of Arly, Doctorow show us the minds of his characters
as they struggle to survive the cruelty of war. Which of these or other
characters in the book do you think you would be most like in a time of
crisis and why?
Throughout "The March," Wrede Sartorius was portrayed as having no
compassion for his patients; rather he treated each of them as a research
subject. Discuss his importance/significance in the book.
3. Cindy Wiser and the As the Page Turns book club
Arly and Will change from Confederate to Union soldiers (and back) and
Pearl changes from black to white (and back) by changing the clothes they
wear and the people with whom they associate. Is it true, as Calvin says,
that "the costume you wear is the person you are"?
At the end of the novel, Pearl and David are no longer slaves, but are
they free? Has Calvin, who has never lived as a slave, ever lived free?
Are any characters free during the war? Colonel Sartorius, Stephen,
Sherman, even Lincoln, live under constraints caused by their situations,
commitments, and responsibilities. What is freedom? What makes us free?
4. Micheller McCaffrey and The Beachbums Bookclub from Sarasota,FL
Historians have debated whether Sherman's march to the sea was simply a particularly brutal act of war or whether it was a war crime. Do you think Sherman's march was justified? Why or Why not?
How would his was campaign compare with current law of war standards?
The emancipated slaves played many roles in The March. Did Pearl understand her new status? How did she come to realize the difference between freedom and independence?
5. Louise Smith and her book club from Mitchell, SD
Survival is one of the main themes of the novel. For each character it has a different meaning. Which have adopted survival mechanisms used to cope? Describe some of these mechanisms each employs and how these skills help them to survive.
In the opening chapter Pearl prays, "Dear God Jesus...teach me to be free." To what extent is her prayer granted?
Is Arly, the Southern rebel, simply a wily individual who takes advantage of any opportunity that presents itself or is there more to him than that? What impact does he have on others and on events?
The discussion questions were developed by book clubs across the country who read The March and collectively drafted questions for us.