Saturday, July 25, 2009

Book Review - Marsh

I decided to take Marsh, by Geraldine Brooks, out of the library, after reading her other book, Year of Wonders last month. The story basically follows Mr. Marsh, who joins the Union army and becomes a teacher to the freed slaves on the Old Landing Plantation.

So who's Mr. Marsh? He's the missing father in the famed book, Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott. Brooks speculates what might have happened to Mr. Marsh, when the family is separated. At one point, Mrs. Marsh (Marmee) leaves Concord and travels to Washington, DC when she finds out her husband is wounded. But she returns abruptly to take care of Beth, who catches scarlet fever.

I'm not a big Civil War enthusiast, but after listening to the 2009 Chautauqua scholars speak ("Lincoln's Legacy of Equality: Voices on the Fringe") this past May in Lawton, I decided to indulge myself in the era. The plantation where Marsh ends up reminded me of what some of our scholars talked about: the lady of the house receiving a slave as a wedding gift and raising her like her own child; the way slaves used song in their life. An interesting sub-plot involves a woman named Grace, who Marsh meets in his travels.

I must admit I didn’t like this book as much as Year of Wonders, but then Years of Wonders was the best book I've read so far this year! I appreciated all the research Brooks did for Marsh, and I know that I can expect that of her other books. She developed the character of Mr. Marsh from the journals and letters of Bronson Alcott, Louisa Alcott’s father. Just as Louisa used her own experiences when she wrote Little Women, Brooks tied Mr. Marsh to Louisa's father. In a roundabout way, I learned more about the Alcotts than I expected. Did you know their family home served as a stop on the underground railway?

Bronson Alcott was actually close friends of Henry Thoreau and Nathanial Hawthorne. Any student of American literature will delight in the passage where Mr. Marsh and Thoreau go fishing in Concord, before Marsh joins the army. He talks about Thoreau "charming" the fish with his flute music on Flint Pond. "This is not the most beautiful of the ponds," he [Thoreau] said, "For beauty I choose White Pond, the gem of the woods, for purity, Walden, but this is the pond I find most fertile in fish."


NICO Designs said...

I always get excited when I can read your post and actually comment without getting one of those darn abort messages!
I am off to the library to find Year of Wonders--you do such a great job reviewing books....

Duni said...

Thanks for the review! I read A LOT of books, so I always appreciate being introduced to new ones :)

Very peaceful image of that pond. Love it.


ChezChani said...

What a great review. I will put this on my list, thanks!

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