Saturday, August 2, 2014

"March" - by Geraldine Brooks , a tale of sublime sensitivity..

I have always loved the genre of historical fiction. Some of my most memorable reading experiences have been books that entertain as well as educate. Coleen McCullough's bulky, meticulously researched tomes of Roman history; or the admirable chronicles of English royalty by Philippa Gregory; or James Cavell's magical journey of eastern culture in six glorious volumes; or Leon Uris's wonderful modern and ancient historical dramas; or James Michener's unparalleled stories of diverse seminal societies; or Irving stone's throbbing biographies of intellectual, political and artistic giants; or Edward Rutherford's penetrating study of English origins;; or Hillary Mantel's insights into sixteenth century Cromwellian era; or Herman Wouk’s Pulitzer winning novels on World wars; or Sir Walter Raleigh’s breathtaking stories of the knight Templars; or Ellis Peter’s ecclesiastical mysteries seen through the eyes of brother Cadfael; or Umberto Eco’s bibliophilic tales of crime; or John Jakes romping twelve volume fictionalized account of American history -  all of these and more than I could ever name in a single essay - have over the years given me unbridled reading pleasure..

But as I put down “March” by Geraldine brooks, I knew for certain that I had read something sublimely beautiful; and, most definitely, a rare gem in this category of writing. ‘March” is set during the American civil war, when a newly born nation did not clearly understand what is that they were fighting for. Was it emancipation of the Negroes, or their redemption from slavery? The one did not necessarily imply the other. It was in those tumultuous times, in 1868, Mary Louis Alcott published the first teenage fiction in literature titled “Little women”. It was a coming of age kind of story of three girls growing up during the first blush of American freedom, opportunity and emergence of Female individuality. The girls grow up with their strong independent mother, having seen their father - a Chaplain join the civil war, and absent for most part of the story. The cult of American adolescent writing started with this book. Geraldine brooks uses the context of “little woman” to weave a story of breathtaking sensitivity. “March” is based on the experiences of the absent father during the war. His view of this calamity as no-win situation for both sides; the painful effects of racial hatred and brutality; the flowering of beauty and grace under the most unexpected conditions; his reevaluation of priorities and reconciliation to hard tempests of historical forces and its step sister – destiny; his reunion with his wife, tempered with a maturity that comes out of the crucible of fiery experiences gathered from nauseating violence and reproachable greed; the unlikely help that comes in the form of long buried love and flickering waves of passion – all find deep expressions in the facile pen of Brooks. A journalist by profession, she chisels paragraphs with clear strokes of a master. Her research into that complex era is fused seamlessly into the literary cadence of her prose. With a few brush strokes of sentences, she manages to evoke a crystal clear image of that unsettling period in our minds and hearts. It is not a bulky piece of fiction, but the nonetheless brings together diverse elements of classic story telling into vivid focus. As I read chapter after chapter, I could feel the creative juice that would have flowed through the writer, as this story germinated and unfolded in her mind- that raw sensation of being in the grove, words forming and pouring our torrentially in a grip of artistic fever; the intellect seized with the drama, pain and joy of its protagonists – and above all, the sure grip over the medium of written word that conjures a reality of its own.. A true work of passion….

As I finished the book at Detroit airport yesterday, my eyes fell upon television screens showing images of the brutal civil war in Gaza. The Israeli’s and Palestinians fighting an ideological war that is eating up thousands of life. It is not so much the pathways of blood, or the bodies that pile up, that affect me – it is the irreparable damage done to individual psyche; of young children growing up in such a milieu, watching this carnage over ideas that they do not fathom, or war cries that make no sense to them. All that their young, innocent eyes witness is a valueless society; utterly decadent and depraved. In a sense, Geraldine brook’s “March” is about this acute inner pain that war and its aftermath causes. No one can come out a battlefield unscathed. It changes perspectives, alters relationships and dehumanizes an individual, or at the very least shifts his inner equilibrium… The wonder that is life is sacrificed at the altar of an idea, and nothing can be more insane or demeaning than this.

“March” won the Pulitzer award in 2006, and a richly deserved one too. I recommend this to any serious lover of literature.

God bless…

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