Review

The March

by E.L. Doctorow



E.L. Doctorow's body of work is an impressive collection of
fictionalized Americana. From BILLY BATHGATE to THE WATERWORKS to
RAGTIME, Doctorow's central narrative themes have always had a
uniquely American historical perspective. Now with his tenth novel,
THE MARCH, he adds not only to his robust literary library but also
to the growing library of work set (in whole or part) during the
Civil War that includes giants such as Margaret Mitchell's GONE
WITH THE WIND and Alex Haley's ROOTS.

And it may be Doctorow's most graphic depiction of a time period
yet. THE MARCH is the retelling of one of the United States's most
infamous military campaigns --- that of Union General William
Techumseh Sherman's destructive march in the final months of the
Civil War through Georgia and South Carolina. Sherman said it
himself: War is hell. Doctorow has never shied away from the
ugliness of life in his fiction, and his latest novel is no
different. He spares nothing in his depiction of the fleeing
plantation owners and newly freed slaves, of Americans terrorizing
their fellow countrymen as they rape, pillage, burn, and sacrifice
one another and their belongings for some higher ideal. Take lives
to save lives; a classic dilemma of life and literature. THE MARCH
shares horrifying images of homes being mindlessly gutted, animals
being slaughtered, soldiers being tortured, all the collateral
damage of war.

And while the devastation of war itself is front and center, it is
the many characters' telling of the events and feeling its
ramifications that grounds the story at the human level. There is
fair and aptly named Pearl, the bastard child of a slave mother and
white master who struggles to find her rightful place amongst the
blacks and whites. There is Dr. Wrede Sartorius (who first appeared
in THE WATERWORKS), the brilliant but deranged battlefield medic
who eerily predicts the medical future as he precisely severs
irreparable limbs.

There is also a Confederate soldier who steals a Union uniform and
"joins" the North to save his own life, disregarding his former
beliefs. There are freed slaves who know nothing more than to
follow the rampaging military that they hope will lead them to a
better life. And there is Sherman himself. Depressed, wrathful and
an insomniac, he wages terror on the innocents because they are, by
chance, on the wrong side of the war --- his war.

War is hell. Doctorow reminds us that the Civil War is perhaps the
greatest example of man turning on man, brother on brother, in
history. Doctorow takes no sides; he treats black and white,
southerner and northerner, man and woman, equally. In THE MARCH, we
are all equal --- that is, equally capable of inflicting the
cruelest of inhumanities upon one another, equally capable of
feeling loss at the core of our very beings.

THE MARCH is without doubt the story of the ravages of war, but
more importantly, it is the story of man's eternal struggle with
his own impulses, fears and needs.

Reviewed by Roberta O'Hara on January 7, 2011

The March
by E.L. Doctorow

  • Publication Date: September 12, 2006
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Paperback: 363 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 0812976150
  • ISBN-13: 9780812976151