I can understand this book being a best seller – Who hasn’t read Little Women. I’m sure most Americans would have and I’d bet that most Australians of my age have also read it. Perhaps someone from the UK and other countries can tell us if this is a book that reached your bookshelves when you were a child.
Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women is a coming of age novel set during the American civil war. The four sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy are brought up by their strong and intelligent mother whilst their Father is absent as he had become bankrupt and had left to serve as a Chaplain in the war.
Geraldine Brooks’ March, which won the 2006 Pulitzer prize in fiction, tells the unknown story of the Father. Brooks’ research for this book was superb. She apparently read the diaries and letters of Alcott’s own father who was a confidant and friend of Emerson and Thoreau.
We see idealistic March through letters to his wife and children and a narrative that is stimulated by the letters – the filtered truth and the reality. The experiences he has and the hardships he endures makes the reader ponder on the moral complexities of war and the war that wages within an idealistic man who discovers that he is also capable of despicable acts and racism. How he will reconnect with his innocent wife and children after a life-threatening injury that has damaged not only his body but also his mind, where “he felt his gorge rise and knew he would be unable to speak. So this was how it was to be, now: I would do my best to live in the quick world, but the ghosts of the dead would be ever at hand.” She also wove into the story events that the reader would remember from Little Women – linking the two books together.
I have to admit that this was not my favourite book by Geraldine Brooks – People of the Book takes that honour for me – I was glad I read it. Another historical fiction that added to the interest generated in slavery when I looked at the biographies of Frederick Douglass for my thesis. Another book I enjoyed from this era was the Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead.
For anyone interested in the American Civil War, Little Women or American history I would certainly recommend this book.