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4.4 out of 5 stars
25
The March: A Novel
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on 25 August 2015
Sadly the trigger for my interest in Doctorow was the author's recent death. I have always been interested in exploring the American novel and this provides a way in. The March is a vivid evocation and through its use of seemingly carefully studied contemporary language is a powerfully immediate read. I needed to adjust to Doctorow's style which although using speech does not denote speech with quotation marks. It all just flows along. A fascinating amalgam of fact and fiction. Nice original touches - at least I think they are original. I liked the way he wove into the story early photography and battlefield surgery. The characters are well drawn. Its closing chapters provide far from obvious thoughts about the transition between war and peace and slavery and freedom. At the same time I bought Doctorow's Jazz Age and am now well into that.
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on 30 April 2013
one of the best sellers of all time according to a lecturer at yale university that i saw on youtube, its recommended in coursework.
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on 13 December 2016
From the very first page I loved this book. A fascinating insight to this terrible war.
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on 6 December 2015
Quick delivery and good price.
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on 27 August 2015
The best book I have read in a long time. Forgot just how good an author Doctorow was.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 16 March 2006
I have read all of Doctorow's books and have loved his extraordinary literary experiments with American history - often making me interested in times i'd otherwise not have known anything about.
But to start with, I found this book verging on the Oprah-ish - the fact that the two American reviews posted on co.uk here, can be so - matter of fact about reviewing it, making it sound like an epic movie... shows that.
I really felt disappointed - I expect so much more from this writer than a beautiful freed slave girl and a cantankerous general - just felt these were cliches out of a tv miniseries.
But in fact the book does have its own strangeness - and the incredibly layered story does help to add to that. I'm still not sure, on finishing the book, whether this wasn't a very conventional book from a usually-more-unusual writer. But I stayed up late to finish it. It really did involve me.
And the book is still so much more worth reading than a lot of other things. I'm still not sure what i think about Pearl - whether i believed in her. But to read this book and to think about the march through Iraq, happening at the same time Doctorow was writing the book - I found very interesting.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 2 October 2017
In his latest novel, E.L. Doctorow explores the American Civil War, specifically the march of General W.T. Sherman and his army through Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina in 1864 --1865. Sherman's march is generally regarded by historians as the predecessor of modern total war. The march was directed not only against the Confederate army, but against an entire people, as Sherman's soldiers cut a broad swatch through the States and through cities, destroying resources, homes and food everything in their path. The war was of such a magnitude and the passions among the combatants and the citizens so strong that the will of the South to fight, not only the force of arms, needed to be subdued. This was a cruel, difficult, and still controversial march as Sherman cut his Army of from its own communications and supplies further North, marauded, and pillaged and lived off the land bringing destruction to everything in its wake and spawning a long legacy of bitterness in the South.

Doctorow begins his story of Sherman's campaign in the midst of it -- after the Union Army had captured Atlanta and begun the first leg of its march to Savannah, Georgia. Doctorow gives a vivid picture of an Army on the march, for the most part unopposed, destroying everything in its path. The march through Georgia is the subject of the first section of the book.

The second part of the book describes the campaign into South Carolina. Destruction in this portion of the campaign reached astounding levels because Sherman, together with most of the Union leaders, held South Carolina responsible for initiating the war. This section of the book includes graphic pictures of the Union Army's difficult march through the swamps of lower South Carolina and of the burning of Columbia. (There is still disagreement about whether the North or the South was primarily responsible for the burning. Doctorow shows that it was some of both.)

The third section of the book, set in North Carolina, deals with the waning days of the War, with the final battle of Bentonville, with Sherman's meeting with Grant and Lincoln, and with the end of the War and Lincoln's assassination. The Nation clearly and a great deal of healing and soul-searching to do.

Doctorow gives the reader an excellent sense of the movement of the armies, the horrors of war, death, injury, and barbarity, and, in particular, of the state of medical practice during the conflict. We are given a good portrait of General Sherman, but of the other leaders of the Army only the clvalry leader Kilpatrick, known as "Kil -Kilpatrick" for his feckless behavior gets a great deal of attention.

The book takes a broad sweep, but there is no single main character that stands out. The story is mostly presented through vignettes and miniatures involving a wide cast of characters. These include a brilliant but emotionally cold Union doctor, Wrede Sartorius, a beautiful young former slave, Pearl, who can pass for white, former Southern slaveholders whose plantations are destroyed and lives uprooted, and Arly and Will, two poor rural Southern soldiers who endure a variety of adventures behind Union lines and provide comic, if sardonic, relief. These individual stories are told from a variety of perspectives and are interlaced with each other. Thus, it takes attention on the reader's part to follow the narrative.

The stories show a great deal about the effects of the march on specific people and groups of people -- we see the war through the eyes of the newly freed slaves, of the dispossessed plantation owners, and of the troops on the ground, among other people and are encouraged to think about its scope and significance. Doctorow puts meditations and soliloquy passages into the parts of some of his protagonists about death, freedom, destruction, and sexuality. These are among the best parts of the book. Doctorow's characters are well-developed and their stories help us to understand varying perspectives on the conflict. But at times, I found them somewhat mannered and a distraction from the focus of the book on Sherman's march.

There are several highly graphic depictions of death, injury, suffering, and surgical operations in this book which capture unforgettably the brutality of warfare.

Doctorow has written an excellent novel about Sherman's march which will encourage the reader to reflect upon its meaning for and continued influence upon our Nation's history.

Robin Friedman
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on 1 March 2018
Yes an good read, not as good as Jeff Shaaras , or Michael Shaaras the most annoying part was the complete
lack of speech marks when anyone spoke, since when is this English?
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on 29 May 2017
In the winter of 1864, General William Tecumseh Sherman set out at the head of 60,000 troops for a march through the rebel states of Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. The aim was to destroy the capacity of the Confederacy to continue waging war, and to break the spirit of the population to support it.

The march wreaked terrible damage, looting and burning as it went, particularly in South Carolina, the first of the states to have seceded from the Union. In this fine, fictionalised portrayal of that time, E L Doctorow follows historical and imagined characters as they are swept up in the march: whites reduced to destitution, freed slaves with no home to go to, Confederate soldiers, Union soldiers, and a string of camp followers, from medical and nursing staff to an accredited photographer.

It is through the eyes of those characters, none of whom is a single central figure, that Doctorow tells the tale of that march. We follow a brilliant German doctor as he explores new medical techniques with a passion that isolates him from more human emotion; we follow Pear, the “white negro” girl, daughter of her former owner, as she begins tentatively to carve a new but uncertain life for herself; we follow Sherman himself as he swings in mood between triumph and uncertainty, bitterness and enthusiasm.

We see the horrors of the destruction, for the soldiers and for civilians, but we also see moments of poignancy and love, even of comedy, especially through the characters of two Confederates, condemned to death by their own side, who find themselves impersonating Union soldiers as they struggle to save their own bacon by fair means or foul.

The whole is a wide-ranging, roller-coaster of a tale, full of tension and surprises. The plot’s always more likely to take a sudden unexpected twist than keep rolling forward, and any character can suddenly be wiped out, so don’t think you can see where you’re heading until you get there. You really don’t know where anyone’s going to end up – except of course the historical ones, but then history provides you a bit of a crib sheet for them…
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 18 May 2015
It was the Matthew Brady photograph on the front cover that stirred my imagination. Who was the tall soldier gazing at the reader in sharp focus and what was his fate? Whilst we will never know, the author briefly introduces a minor character, Josiah Culp, a United States Army-accredited photographer, who similarly records permanently the action of the Civil War.

The March is that of General William Tecumseh Sherman whose Union army campaign across the Confederate States effectively ended the US Civil War. E. L. Doctorow has created an absorbing account of the army's progress, its combatants and those caught up in its advances and retreats, enemy forces and those living in the South whose lives were transformed by the battles and skirmishes, and their aftermath.

The author integrates a large cast of historical and imaginary characters, some described throughout the book, others appearing and disappearing quite rapidly, to describe a war ‘in which the generals of the North and South knew one another – they had been at West Point together or served side by side in the Mexican War’, where the combatants had ‘repeating rifles that could kill at a thousand yards, grape that could decimate an advancing line, cannon, fieldpieces, munitions that could bring down entire cities’ and ‘the brutal romance of war was still possible in the taking of spoils’, material and human.

British readers will be less familiar with the details of the campaign and its leading characters. The arguments of the opposing sides are presented directly through the opinions of characters that appear like brushstrokes in a multicoloured canvas. These include soldiers, their senior officers, field surgeons [through the activities of the German-born Colonel Wrede Sartorius we are introduced to much gruesome and rapid field medicine], ex-slaves and disposessed families from plantation houses, the brave, cowardly and bemused. Amongst the most engaging are two Confederate prisoners, Will and Arly, whose determination to remain alive sees them adopting a range of guises on each side of the military divide.

Doctorow’s portrayal of Sherman [called ‘Uncle Billy’ by his adoring soldiers], adopting internal and external perspectives, is masterly - a complex strategist who suffers illness and family loss, yet writes a letter of sympathy to a Confederate general whose son has been killed, a man who vigorously promotes ‘scorched earth’ tactics and recognises the need to let his men briefly pillage and rape before setting off on the next stage of the march, and who shows solidarity with the common soldier through his dress and sleeping in camp.

The army is described as ‘a great segmented body moving in contractions and dilations at a rate of 12 or 15 miles a day, a creature of a hundred thousand feet. It is tubular in its being and tentacled to the roads and bridges over which it travels.’ Sherman’s proclamation that much of South Carolina be given over to black resettlement with each homesteader being given 40 acres and a mule, was designed, not out of deep-grained abolitionist sentiments, but to decouple former non-combatant slaves who had been following his army and persuade to many freed slaves to fight for the North.

The racial core of this cinematographic book is revealed, generally, through the freeing of slaves and, specifically, through the story of 15-year old Pearl, a light-skinned slave who finally falls in love with a white man and then looks after an orphaned black child who ultimately rejects her because of her skin colour.

Sometimes the author strains too hard, Sartorius being transferred to Washington after coming to the attention of Abraham Lincoln and being in the room when he dies. Amongst the death, burning and filth there is a leavening of humour, such as the stories of Will and Arly, and the advancement of General Kilpatrick until he is undone by his own dingus. Recommended.
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