This book is sort of like a combination of Cold Mountain and Gilead. And I mean that as a good thing because I really like both of those novels.
The premise is that this novel tells the lost story of Mr. March, the father figure of Little Women while he is off to war. It’s told as a personal narrative from Mr. March’s perspective, with a small section near the end in the voice of Ms. March. March doesn’t go to fight in the war but to be a chaplain for a locally formed regiment. When it turns out he’s more than needed, he gets switched over to a different regiment, and when he is caught in a compromised situation he gets moved again to “contraband” helping to oversee an annexed plantation now run for the benefit of the Union.
Throughout all of this he writes passionate but banal letters home and lives a life of thought, of violence, of worry, and of crisis of conscience.
I call this the anti-Gone with the Wind because it also tries to tackle issues of race and gender during the Civil War in both the North and the South, but unlike the more famous novel it actually tries to make sense of the tangled nature of these questions. It refuses to see slavery and racism as political discussions, but as moral ones.
Over all, this is a beautifully written novel with a lot of amazing passages and a real passion for the moral questions.
It’s best when the issues are thick, and it’s least good when it’s trying to be connected to Little Women.