I read last week Geraldine Brooks’ novel, March. I recall the excitement when it came out, after people had so much enjoyed her fabulous book A Year of Wonders.
The latter is a story set in the famous town of Eyam, in England, where the people decided to close off their plague-infested village, to prevent it spreading to other villages.
March is another historical novel, this time set in the American civil war. It is the story of Captain March, who is a chaplain in the army of the United (northern) States. March is the father of the family made famous in Louisa May Alcott’s novel Little Women. In that story, the father is absent, at war. Brooks has imagined his life, separated from his ‘little women’.
Though this novel has not been as well received as A Year of Wonders, I think it is really great. I could hardly put it down, and I found it rich in human insights and a superb sense of what Christian ministry is about. Just a couple of quotes show this:
p.5 March writes, after a horrible battle and defeat: ‘No wonder simple men have always had their gods dwell in the high places. For as soon as a man lets his eye drop from the heavens to the horizon, he risks setting it on some scene of desolation.’
p. 72 Again, the reflective March: ‘I find it suits me, this job of chaplain. I am, indeed, a "chapel man", who carries within himself all that’s needed for worship. At last, ti is possible to have a part in faith without carved pulpit or Gothic arch, without lace altar cloth or without robes, save my suit or unornamented black.’
p.81 Things are still going badly and the high-principle of March’s anti-slavery stance is being sorely tested. ‘How often it is that an idea that seems bright bossed and gleaming in its clarity when examined in church, or argued over with a friend in a frosty garden, becomes clouded and murk-stained when dragged out into the field of actual endeavour.
If war can ever be said to be just, then this war is so; it is action for a moral cause, with the most rigorous of intellectual underpinnings. And yet everywhere I turn, I see injustice done in the waging of it.’
A really good book, and great insights to ponder.