The March by E.L. Doctorow. 363 page, historical novel, 2005.
Another outstanding Doctorow novel. Like his marvelous Ragtime, which featured a young New York Police Commissioner Teddy Roosevelt involved in an explosive crime investigation, The March blends historical fact and actual people with fictional characters. Beginning shortly after the capture of Atlanta, this one follows people from all sides of the conflict as they are caught up in General William Sherman’s epic march through Georgia and the Carolinas in the last year of the war.
Sherman himself is pictured as a troubled yet determined leader, dogged by personal tragedy and the pressures of command. Meanwhile, his Cavalry commander Kilpatrick comes off even more of a reckless, self-important brute than expected from the scornful “Kill-Cavalry” nickname history has hung on him.
But while Doctorow portrays famous figures as real, multi-dimensional people and not mere archetypes or historical icons, the focus here (quite rightly, this being a novel) is on the created characters–fictional, but equally psychologically real individuals caught up in the turmoil that Sherman’s scorched earth policy unleashed on those rebel states.
Southern refugees–both escaped slaves and their equally displaced former owners–as well as dirt-poor “white trash” Southerners, ordinary soldiers, heroes, fools and turncoats of assorted stripes, a British journalist, a immigrant army doctor and a pair of photographers out to record the history before them (one of whom is a free northern black man) all figure in Doctorow’s vivid, well-paced and striking tapestry of this fateful period.
An excellent book, especially strong in conveying the tangled emotional interactions produced in those (black and white alike) who grew up in the grip of the “Strange Institution” of slavery on the plantations of the South.
Very Highly Recommended!