It must be extremely difficult for an author to take a character that another author has created and write a completely new storyline for him/her. I am always hesitant when I hear about books that are retellings or extensions of another person’s work because I never know if it will ruin my love for the original story.
When I heard Geraldine Brooks had written a book “March”, telling the story of the elusive Mr. March from “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott, I was extremely excited. After all “Little Women” is one of my favorite novels. And this is also what made me hesitate to read it. “Little Women” was written in a completely different time and I couldn’t help but wonder how Brooks could even get the material to write such a book. I didn’t know if she would be able to give it justice.
However, Brooks showed once again that she is truly a master of her craft and, even had I not read the afterword where she details her research, it was quite evident that Brooks had looked into Alcott and the history behind her classic.
In “Little Women”, it is clear that Mr. March is an important figure to the girls right in the opening pages when Jo says “We don’t have father and shall not have him for a long time.” The girls go on to think of their father where the fighting is. While this will motivate the girls in their actions moving forward, Mr. March remains in the distant background throughout most of the novel, with just reminders sprinkled throughout. The only times Mr. March is mentioned is when Marmee reads a letter she receives from him, then when she is called to Washington because Mr. March is ill and finally, his surprising return home, the only point he makes physical appearance.
These moments are noted in “March” and helps provides the reader with a timeline of where Mr. March is in relation to the “Little Women” storyline. Brooks fills in the gaps with remarkable detail of Mr. March’s accounts of the war, the hypocrisy of both sides as well as his views about African Americans, which many in his regiment condemn him for and even reassign him to another area.
Having read up on the history of Louisa May Alcott and her family, it was quite evident that Brooks based Mr. March on Alcott’s own father, Bronson Alcott, from his attitudes in education to being involved in the Underground Railroad. Even Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, who were close friends with the Alcotts, make an appearance in “March”. It makes sense, since the March sisters are based on her own sisters.
But Brooks’ research went even further and I was actually surprised that even the camp that Mr. March ends up at, where freed slaves are made to work for wages, is actually based on a true account.
It is evident that Brooks had much respect for Alcott’s work and wanted to do it justice. Honestly, as I was reading it, I kept forgetting that it was from a different author. There was no point in the plot where I questioned the authenticity.
It made for an enjoyable read and I was able to focus on getting to know Mr. March as personally as I have gotten to know his daughters, Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy. And I definitely feel like I know all of the March family at this point.
Though I will say, I was a little nervous about March’s character from the onset, when he reveals that letters he has been sending home are lies.
“I never promised I would write the truth.”
I mean it’s understandable why he doesn’t go into detail about the day-to-day of war in his letters home. Just reading about what was going on in reality caused me to grit my teeth and hold my breath until it was over.
I liked how March doesn’t only explain the carnage and horror that he is seeing around him, but he also uses his down time to reflect on his past. Here is where the reader gets to truly know the person he was and how he got to where he is now. I especially liked the parts where he talks about meeting Marmee, aka Margaret as a young woman, her fire personality and how she had just as much input to where the March family is now. It is another clue as to the progressive nature of the family, inspired by the Alcotts..
I also especially liked that Brooks filled in the holes of what happened when Marmee went to Washington to take care of the ailing Mr. March. In the book, Brooks gives Marmee her own section and you get to see how much she hides from the girls, how much turmoil goes through her as she learns some truths to her husband’s past. In “Little Women”, Marmee almost seems like the best mother ever, despite a mere hint of her flaws when she shares with Jo that she has a similar temper. Well, that temper is definitely not held in check in this book but it makes Marmee even more endearing, if that is even possible.
I loved how “March” ends with Mr. March returning home, falling at the end of the first part, or first book if you will, of “Little Women”. It made for the perfect ending, even though getting there was riddled with its own drama.
If you had always wondered what happened to Mr. March when he went to war, then Brooks’ version is the perfect complement. This book now holds a special place on my bookshelf right next to its inspiration and its two other books, “Little Men” and “Jo’s Boys.”