I have just finished March by Geraldine Brooks, the fourth book of hers I have read. (I forgot to take a photo of the cover before returning it to the library, so you'll have to put up with this image from Amazon...) If you have not read Ms. Brooks then you really must add her to your list of authors to check out. My friend Barb introduced me to her with Year of Wonders, a fictional novel based on a true account of a small village in England hit by the bubonic plague in 1666. Not just a tale of disease and death, it is also a story of survival, compassion and the inner strength of a young woman who battles to save her fellow villagers. This story was so well written, I went on to read People of the Book, which I enjoyed equally, if not moreso. Also inspired by a true story, it tells of Hanna, a rare book expert, who takes on the "job of a lifetime"- the analysis and conservation of the famed Sarajevo Haggadah - one of the earliest Jewish manuscripts ever to be illuminated. (You can see some of its incredible illustrations here and learn more about it here.) When she discovers tiny artifacts in its binding - a fragment of an insect wing, a white hair, wine stains and salt crystals, she sets out to unlock the mystery and history of the book. I found it a fascinating read - yet another book that was so difficult to put down. After these two, I knew that Ms. Brooks would be going on my "Favourite Authors- I'll read anything she writes" list... (Do you have a list like that?)
Which brings me back to March, winner of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. It is the imagined story of Mr. March, the "absentee father" in Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. March leaves behind his wife and four daughters in Concord as he heads south to help the Union cause as a Chaplain during the American Civil War. March, an abolitionist, soon has his faith and idealism tested as he deals with the grim realities of war, and sees the difficulties of transitioning freed slaves into society. He is a kind and gentle character who struggles with his responsibility for the brutal treatment of slaves he is trying to help, and the devastating consequences for their lives, not to mention the sad consequences for his own. He encounters the horrors of war yet protects his wife and family from the gory details in his letters home. But when he suffers serious illness and ends up in hospital in Washington, his wife travels to be by his bedside and discovers this broken man is radically changed. He has harboured secrets and has come home a changed man. Will their lives ever be the same?
Brooks' meticulous research and wonderful imagination combine to give us
a riveting look at the Civil War and the attitudes towards "freed" slaves. She weaves together history with an imagined character and story, blending her brilliant writing skills with the ability to bring characters to life. Her descriptions are vivid, her plot richly layered, her eloquent use of mid-nineteenth century language "spot on".
One need not have read Little Women to enjoy this book. It's gripping. Beautifully written. Worth. reading. every. word. One of the best books I've read this year. If you have not yet read Geraldine Brooks, you must.
"You can be too rich and too thin, but you can never be too well read or too curious about the world." ~ Tim Gunn