Tuesday, July 17, 2007

I now know, having perused Geraldine Brooks' website, that March won the 2006 Pulitzer prize for fiction. I had not noticed that it had received such acclaim when I pulled it from the shelf at our modest library, but now, having finished the last page, I am not surprised it did. It is good. Brooks' is an authentic voice. Her extensive reading of primary sources, particularly the writings of Bronson Alcott, that was the inspiration for L.M. Alcott's father figure in Little Women, gives Brooks a handle on the cadences of 19th century prose. Combined with her literary skill, Brooks brings to her narrative journalistic details, a result of her experience as a correspondent in war-torn countries.

In the novel, Brooks gives thoughtful consideration to a quandry common to many: how do we come to terms with the discrepency between our ideals and the realities of life? Mr. March is a pacifist, and enlists as a chaplain, seeking to live out his beliefs. Later, he later sees people in his care killed, and killed because of his own cowardice or in the effort to save him. It is a difficult cross to bear. Grace, the educated daughter of a plantation owner and his slave, offers this perspective to Mr. March as he flagellates himself for the horrors he believe he has caused:

"You are not God. You do not determine the outcome. The outcome is not the point."

"The what, pray, is the point?" His voice was a dry, soft rattle, like a breeze through a bough of dead leaves."

"The point is the effort. That you, believing what you believed--what you sincerely believed, including the commandment 'thou shalt not kill'--acted upon it. To believe, to act, and to have events confound you--I grant you, that is hard to bear. But to believe, and not to act, or to act in a way that every fiber of your soul held was wrong--how can you not see? That is what would have been reprehensible." (258)
Later, Grace continues:
I simply ask you to see that there is only one thing to do when we fall, and that is to get up, and go on with the life that is set in front of us, and try to do the good of which our hands are capable for the people who come in our way. (268)
This embodiment of grace is probably the greatest reason I found to love March, and to appreciate it for more than the historical fiction it is in genre. Brooks is right, and she expresses the truth eloquently; we waste precious time beating ourselves up over past failures. The only hope is to forgive, ourselves, then others, moving forward with conviction and compassion.

Related Links:
  • "March to the Front," an article about Brooks' journey to writing March, by Catherine Keenan of the Sydney Morning Herald
  • "The Writing Life," Geraldine Brooks' reflections on her craft

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