Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Thursday Thirteen - 107 - 13 Reasons to Read March by Geraldine Brooks

You may have noticed the badge I have in my sidebar.

And that I've joined a reading challenge held in her honor. Dewey was a book blogger who posted indepth reviews of wonderful books. She also acted as the hub of many blog communities, such as Weekly Geeks, 24-Hour Readathon and Bookworms Carnival.

I'm only a fringe book-blogger, more of a writing-life blogger. I knew of these blog communities and I was a regular visitor at Dewey's blog, The Hidden Side of a Leaf. I left comments for her, and she left comments for me.

Like this one:

"It's nice to read about a family with so many generations still so close!" - Dewey, Aug. 5th, 2007

Here's a wee conversation we had over in her comments section, after her review of Neil Gaiman's Stardust:

Me - "As a film sort of person, I have naturally seen ‘Stardust’ but haven’t read the book. I really enjoyed it, as I did the British TV miniseries ‘Neverwhere’, which is one of my favorite miniseries ever. Of course, didn’t read the book!

Book lovers are often highly displeased with film versions of their favorites. Something is always left out that the reader enjoyed so much. Personally, I always find it fascinating to see different adaptations of stories. One story can be a poem, novel, film, opera or ballet. Each version has to morph into something completely new."

Dewey - "My husband is ESPECIALLY prone to hating any movie made out of anything he’s read. I can sometimes manage to take them as two separate things and enjoy them for what they each are, but other times, like with Shakespeare/Danes/DiCaprio fiasco, not." - (LOL!) Nov. 9th, 2007

Imagine my shock when I clicked over to her blog last Dec. 1st to read these words:

"I’ve got a piece of sad news to deliver. Dewey passed away on Tuesday evening. My wife was unwell and in a lot of pain; I don’t believe she ever discussed that side of her life here, and I’ve no desire to go against her boundaries, just know she was in a lot of pain. I am sad that my wife is no longer here, but she’s not in pain any more."

I read this at work. Luckily, no one saw the tears running down my face.

Dewey's blog friends quickly set up several reading challenges in her honor. Participants are asked to choose 6 books from her 2003-2008 book review archives. This is my first review from the Dewey Reading Challenge.

1 - First of all, as with Kailana's Four-Legged Friends Reading Challenge - the first one I ever joined - I've been led towards a fantastic book I never would have been able to read if I had not crowbarred the time into my schedule.

2 - March is the second book of fiction for Geraldine Brooks, a former journalist. Far from a sophomore jinx, this second offering won Ms. Brooks the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

3 - Ms. Brooks is also the author of Year of Wonders and People of the Book.

I'm currently reading Year of Wonders as the second book for the Dewey Reading Challenge.

Ms. Brooks has also written two non-fiction books:

Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women

Foreign Correspondence: A Pen Pal's Journey from Down Under to All Over

4 - March takes us to familiar territory and then spins our expectations in wild directions. Brooks bases her characters on those of Louisa May Alcott's from her novel Little Women. It is fiction that sees a contemporary author visiting the work of a well-known classic and expanding on the world created by the original author. The whole sub-genre of the parallel novel intrigues me, and the following books are on my wish list:

H. - The Story of Heathcliff's Journey Back to Wuthering Heights

Wide Sargasso Sea - saw the film. Loved it.

Rhett Butler's People

5 - The story is told through two first-person accounts: Mr. March's POV - he's an army chaplain for the Union side during the American Civil War, and Marmee March's POV - she's his wife and the mother of four older girls known to us as the Little Women of Alcott's book.

The changing POV's are handled beautifully. In Little Women, the absent father is at war when the family receives word that he is gravely ill, and Marmee must go to him. March begins in Mr. March's POV, where we remain until the illness sets in. At that point, the POV changes to Marmee's until he is somewhat recovered. Then we end the book once again in Mr. March's POV.

6 - In an inspired choice, Brooks gives us a Marmee very unlike the one we get to know in Little Women. That Marmee is kind and good, self-restrained and the epitome of the loving Woman. Of course, she's also a single mother in practice while her husband is away, and never shows she is unequal to the task of providing a secure home for her daughters. Marmee is an early version of today's Super Mom.

Daughter Jo is hot-headed, dramatic, tomboyish and intellectual. Her sister Beth is often trying to gentle Jo's behaviour.

In a wonderful role swap, we meet a Marmee who is the genesis of her future daughter Jo. Marmee exhibits all the characteristics we know so well as Jo's domain. And in a touching echo of Jo's and Beth's relationship, Mr. March spends quite a few scenes attempting to diffuse his wife's powder-keg temper.

7 - Rather than Jo's vibrant inner world of fictional stories and dramatic plays, Marmee is a passionate abolitionist. Ms. Brooks writes several real life figures of the time into the book: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and John Brown. Louisa May Alcott's father Bronson - the inspiration for Ms. Brooks' character of Mr. March - was a contemporary of all three and was influential upon those great thinkers and rebels.

When he meets Marmee, who already runs a station for the Underground Railroad, he cannot help but join his flame of idealism to hers.

8 - The only cause of the war that means anything to March is the one to free the slaves. His early experiences on a plantation, which begin the novel, and his relationships with slaves bring us deep into the heart of the novel. What truly drives a man like March to temporarily leave his family for an ideal? Ms. Brooks introduces us to numerous characters who are flesh and blood incarnations of the ideals March cherishes. Later in the novel, in Marmee's POV, we discover what living for one's ideals can take from a man - and from a woman.

9 - The relationship between March and Marmee is very he said/she said. Several identical scenes are told from his POV and then later from hers. Being on the receiving end of a Marmee outburst with March, and later discovering how it hurts Marmee when her husband negates her feelings gives a poignant, complex look into a very intense marriage.

10 - Ms. Brooks really knows how to end each chapter with a hook. Like this, for example:

"I didn't know what I'd be able to do, but this time I had to do something. I moved forward, parting the corn with my arm. A blow to the back of my knees caused me to crumple. 'Stay put, marse,' hissed Jesse, behind me. 'Now ain't no time to make a move.'

'Gentlemen, move out!' the major called. 'We have an appointment to keep.' He lifted a battered
chapeau de bras and swept it across his body in a mockery of a bow, and turned his horse for the woods. I saw that Zannah was running after the party, the need to be with her son more powerful than her fear of reenslavement. One of the irregulars also saw her, and turned to alert the major. The major shrugged, and so the guerilla pushed Zannah forward into line with the tied slaves and roped by the neck.

When they had disappeared into the ragged scallop of cypress woods, Jesse grabbed my hand and started after them, keeping to the corn rows. He had a trash-cutter's knife slung across his back. 'If we can just keep sight of them till nightfall,' he said as we advanced at a brisk jog, 'then maybe when they's sleeping we just might git a chance to cut loose some of them.' It was a better plan than any I had, and so we followed them into the trees."

11 - There are many, many scenes that stay with me. Geraldine Brooks' background in journalism helped her develop a punchy style that paints image-rich scenes with a beautiful economy of words. Her story is often heartbreaking, but that's a place I long to go with open arms. March really took me there.

12 - What did Dewey have to say about March? Click HERE to find out.

13 - I leave you with an excerpt. Enjoy!

"When we were admitted the colonel was still pouring over engineer's drawings and seemed to listen to my complaint with only half an ear.

'Very well,' he said when I had concluded. He turned to the offending soldiers. 'The chaplain is quite right. I won't have civilian women molested, even if they are the wives and spawn of rebels. I understand why you felt driven to do it, but don't be doing it again. Dismissed.'

The soldiers left, their relief propelling them swiftly from the room. Only the corporal paused, to give me a swift grin of contempt. The colonel had taken up a compass and commenced measuring distances on the engineer's drawings.

'Sir-' I began, but he cut me off.

'March, I think you should reconsider your place with this regiment.'


'You can't seem to get on with anyone. You've irritated the other officers...Even Tyndale can't abide you - and he's as much of an abolitionist as you are. I've got Surgeon McKillop in one ear complaining that you don't preach against sin, and yet here you are sowing discord in the ranks by seeing a great sin in harmless soldierly pranks...'

'Sir, such wanton destruction is hardly -'

'Keep your peace, would you, March for once in your life?' He jabbed the compass so hard that it passed right through the chart and lodged in the fine mahogany of the desk beneath. He came around the desk then and laid a hand on my arm. 'I like you alright; I know you mean well, but the thing of it is, you're too radical for these mill-town lads. Most of these boys aren't down here fighting for the nig - for the slaves. You
must see it, man.'

He shot me a hard look. I held my tongue, with the greatest difficulty. He went on, as if speaking to himself. 'Why do we have chaplains? The book of army regulations has little to say on the matter. Odd, isn't it? Well, in my view your duty is to bring the men comfort.' Then he glared at me and raised his voice. 'That's your role, March, damn it. And yet all you seem to do is make people
uncomfortable.' He plucked the compass out of the desk and rapped it impatiently against the chair back. When he resumed speaking, it was in a more civil tone. 'Don't you think you'd do better with the big thinkers in the Harvard unit?'

'Sir, the Harvard unit has famous ministers even in its rank and file - men from its own divinity school. They hardly need...'

He raised his big meaty hand, as if conceding my point. 'Well, then, since you like the Negroes so very much, have you thought about assisting the army with the problem of the contraband? The need is plain. Ever since Butler opened the gates at Fortress Monroe to these people, we've had hundreds streaming into our lines. They are upon our hands by the fortunes of war, and yet, with war to wage, officers can't be playing wet nurse. If something is not done, why, the army will be drowned in a black tide...'

'But, Colonel,' I interrupted, taking a pace forward and putting myself back in his line of sight. 'I know the men in this regiment. I was with them at the camp of instruction; we drilled together. I prayed with them when we got the news of the defeat at Bull Run...'

'Good God, man, I don't need to hear a recitation of your entire service...'

I kept talking, right over the top of him. 'I've been through defeat with these men, I've been covered in their blood. No other chaplain -'

'Silence!' he shouted. He walked over to the window, which opened onto a remarkable prospect of faceted cliffs falling sharply to the crotch of merging rivers. The light was falling and a red glow burnished the surface of the water. He spoke with his face turned toward the view so that he wouldn't have to look at me.

'March, I tried to put this kindly, but if you insist on the blunt truth, then you shall have it. I have to tell you that McKillop is lodging a complaint against you, and some of what he plans to put in it is rather...indelicate. I'm not about to pry into your personal affairs. You may be a chaplain, but you're a soldier at war, and a man, and these things happen...'

'Colonel, if Captain McKillop has implied...'

'March, let me do you a kindness. Do yourself one. Request reassignment to the superintendent of contraband. Who knows? You may be able to do a deal of good there.' "

- Geraldine Brooks, 2005

Join me next week when I review To Rescue a Rogue by Jo Beverley.

Janet says Dewey was one of the first bloggers I read back when I started...I was shocked to hear of her passing, too.

Kailana says I am like Dewey's husband. I almost always hate movie adaptions of books I love!

Hootin' Anni says I have that sitting on my night table, [March] to read eventually.


Unknown said...

What a lovely tribute to your friend. I'm sorry for your loss. May she RIP.

Janet said...

Dewey was one of the first bloggers I read back when I started...I was shocked to hear of her passing, too. Beautiful post :-)

anthonynorth said...

A great tribute. And you make me want to read more - ah, if only I had the time.

Shelley Munro said...

What a great post, Julia. I'm sorry to hear about your friend, and this is a wonderful tribute.

Kailana said...

This is a great idea, Julia! I haven't read March, yet, but I did read Year of Wonders and thought it was really good! I hope you are enjoying it!

I am like Dewey's husband. I almost always hate movie adaptions of books I love!

Hootin' Anni said...

I skipped it all...'cause I have that sitting on my night table, [March] to read eventually. But from the comments here, I realize you lost a my sympathies.

Happy Thirteening!!

I am Harriet said...

Good list.
I liked your reasons.

Mia Celeste said...

What a moving tribute and you inspire me to add March to my to-read pile. Thanks.

Carmen said...

Looks like I might have to add to my TBR pile. :) Good tribute.

Carmen Shirkey Collins said...

sorry, I commented with the wrong Google ID. Now you can find my 13, and read about yet another author!

Unknown said...

I, too, was a reader of Dewey's. This was such a nice tribute, Julia.

I must find MARCH! I love LITTLE WOMEN, and after reading your review, this is going near the top of my TBR list. Thanks!

Kelly Boyce said...

Sorry to hear you lost one of your blog friends but what a great tribute in her honor.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

I think I've mentioned to you that I adored Year of Wonders. Liked People of the Book a lot, but not quite as much as Year of Wonders.

That leaves March yet to read. I have to steal it back from my father, but it's on the mountain. Believe me. It's on the mountain. No way am I gonna miss more of the goodness that is Geraldine Brooks.

The Bumbles said...

I really enjoyed March and have recommended it here and there to historical fiction fans and fans of Little Women. It made me want to go and re-read Little Women, but by the time I ever get around to doing than, I'll need to go and re-read March! I did really like how we got the other side of the coin and how interesting to see how opposite the views were on the same experience. Some things never change!

Thomma Lyn said...

Oh dear, how sad about Dewey. Your post is a lovely tribute to her. And you've got me very interested in Geraldine Brooks and her work!