torstai 26. tammikuuta 2012
Geraldine Brooks: March
Geraldine Brooks has taken one of the classics of American literature, Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, and re-written the story from an entirely different perspective. This time, the main character is Mr. March, the father of the four "little women" who is absent for most of Alcott's novel as he is off fighting in the American Civil War.
I have never read Little Women, but I have watched the film with Winona Ryder, Claire Danes etc. dozens of times. I remember wondering about the missing father who always seems distant although the girls read his letters from the war. Near the end of the film, Mr. March is injured in the war and his wife, Marmee, leaves the girls to go and take care of him in a military hospital. And finally, the father returns home for Christmas.
Alcott's story is hopeful and optimistic, but the character of Mr. March remains a mystery. He just seems like an affectionate, but distant father who is never at home. Geraldine Brooks sheds light on this mysterious, somewhat black-and-white character by giving March a history, a voice and a complex personality of his own.
March is a book about the American Civil War, but it is not a book about fighting and shooting and armies. Mr. March leaves his family in the North, because he sincerely believes that the main cause of the war (to abolish slavery in the South) is morally just and righteous. He quite sincerely believes that the Union cause is worth fighting for - although he himself is going to the war as a man of the church, a chaplain, and refuses to fire his gun.
The reality that March faces shatters his illusions about the glories and righteousness of war. The quote above just about sums up the impossible situation that he finds himself in. While he sets off with the naïve belief that the North is doing what is morally right, he soon finds himself questioning this belief over and over again. He meets slaves who are willing to die for their former masters, Union men who take over the southern plantations and treat the slaves (now, officially, "free") just as brutally as their former slave-owners, Union soldiers and Confederate forces who attack and murder each other ruthlessly for the sake of revenge... March writes loving letters home to his wife and daughters, but he struggles with the idea that he has to protect them from the harsh reality of the situation and censor his true experiences.
March not only gives voice to the absent father of Little Women, but also imagines something beyond the loving, happy family life and marriage that Alcott describes. March and his wife, Marmee, have their own hidden secrets and doubts about their relationship. I noticed that many online reviews were especially critical of the way that Brooks portrays Marmee - not quite as motherly, loving and tender as in Alcott's novel. But March is obviously an interpretation, so it's not even meant to be totally loyal to Alcott's original work.
Despite the somewhat old-fashioned language and complicated sentences, I really enjoyed the novel and couldn't stop turning the pages. I recommend this for all fans of Alcott - but with a warning: after reading this, the March family won't feel the same as it did before.
Geraldine Brooks: March. Penguin. 2005. 280 pages.