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The March

Cover of The March

The March

A Novel
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In 1864, after Union general William Tecumseh Sherman burned Atlanta, he marched his sixty thousand troops east through Georgia to the sea, and then up into the Carolinas. The army fought off Confederate forces and lived off the land, pillaging the Southern plantations, taking cattle and crops for their own, demolishing cities, and accumulating a borne-along population of freed blacks and white refugees until all that remained was the dangerous transient life of the uprooted, the dispossessed, and the triumphant. Only a master novelist could so powerfully and compassionately render the lives of those who marched.

The author of Ragtime, City of God, and The Book of Daniel has given us a magisterial work with an enormous cast of unforgettable characters -- white and black, men, women, and children, unionists and rebels, generals and privates, freed slaves and slave owners. At the center is General Sherman himself; a beautiful freed slave girl named Pearl; a Union regimental surgeon, Colonel Sartorius; Emily Thompson, the dispossessed daughter of a Southern judge; and Arly and Will, two misfit soldiers.

Almost hypnotic in its narrative drive, The March stunningly renders the countless lives swept up in the violence of a country at war with itself. The great march in E. L. Doctorow’s hands becomes something more -- a floating world, a nomadic consciousness, and an unforgettable reading experience with awesome relevance to our own times."

In 1864, after Union general William Tecumseh Sherman burned Atlanta, he marched his sixty thousand troops east through Georgia to the sea, and then up into the Carolinas. The army fought off Confederate forces and lived off the land, pillaging the Southern plantations, taking cattle and crops for their own, demolishing cities, and accumulating a borne-along population of freed blacks and white refugees until all that remained was the dangerous transient life of the uprooted, the dispossessed, and the triumphant. Only a master novelist could so powerfully and compassionately render the lives of those who marched.

The author of Ragtime, City of God, and The Book of Daniel has given us a magisterial work with an enormous cast of unforgettable characters -- white and black, men, women, and children, unionists and rebels, generals and privates, freed slaves and slave owners. At the center is General Sherman himself; a beautiful freed slave girl named Pearl; a Union regimental surgeon, Colonel Sartorius; Emily Thompson, the dispossessed daughter of a Southern judge; and Arly and Will, two misfit soldiers.

Almost hypnotic in its narrative drive, The March stunningly renders the countless lives swept up in the violence of a country at war with itself. The great march in E. L. Doctorow’s hands becomes something more -- a floating world, a nomadic consciousness, and an unforgettable reading experience with awesome relevance to our own times."

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    Chapter 1

    I

    At five in the morning someone banging on the door and shouting, her husband, John, leaping out of bed, grabbing his rifle, and Roscoe at the same time roused from the backhouse, his bare feet pounding: Mattie hurriedly pulled on her robe, her mind prepared for the alarm of war, but the heart stricken that it would finally have come, and down the stairs she flew to see through the open door in the lamplight, at the steps of the portico, the two horses, steam rising from their flanks, their heads lifting, their eyes wild, the driver a young darkie with rounded shoulders, showing stolid patience even in this, and the woman standing in her carriage no one but her aunt Letitia Pettibone of McDonough, her elderly face drawn in anguish, her hair a straggled mess, this woman of such fine grooming, this dowager who practically ruled the season in Atlanta standing up in the equipage like some hag of doom, which indeed she would prove to be. The carriage was piled with luggage and tied bundles, and as she stood some silver fell to the ground, knives and forks and a silver candelabra, catching in the clatter the few gleams of light from the torch that Roscoe held. Mattie, still tying her robe, ran down the steps thinking stupidly, as she later reflected, only of the embarrassment to this woman, whom to tell the truth she had respected more than loved, and picking up and pressing back upon her the heavy silver, as if this was not something Roscoe should be doing, nor her husband, John Jameson, neither.

    Letitia would not come down from her carriage, there was no time, she said. She was a badly frightened woman with no concern for her horses, as John saw and quickly ordered buckets to be brought around, as the woman cried, Get out, get out, take what you can and leave, and seemed to be roused to anger as they only stood listening, with some of the field hands appearing now around the side of the house with the first light, as if drawn into existence by it. And I know him! she cried. He has dined in my home. He has lived among us. He burns where he has ridden to lunch, he fires the city in whose clubs he once gave toasts, oh yes, someone of the educated class, or so we thought, though I never was impressed! No, I was never impressed, he was too spidery, too weak in his conversation, and badly composed in his dress, careless of his appearance, but for all that I thought quite civilized in having so little gift to dissemble or pretend what he did not feel. And what a bitter gall is in my throat for what I believed was a domesticated man with a clear love for wife and children, who is no more than a savage with not a drop of mercy in his cold heart.

    It was difficult to get the information from her, she ranted so. John did not try to, he began giving orders and ran back in the house. It was she, Mattie, who listened. Her aunt's hysteria, formulated oddly in terms of the drawing room, moved her to her own urgent attention. She had for the moment even forgotten her boys upstairs.

    They are coming, Mattie, they are marching. It is an army of wild dogs led by this apostate, this hideous wretch, this devil who will drink your tea and bow before he takes everything from you.

    And now, her message delivered, her aunt slumped back in her seat, and gave her order to be off. Where Letitia Pettibone was going Mattie could not get the answer. Nor how much time there was, in fact, before the scourge arrived at her own door. Not that she doubted the woman. She looked into the sky slowly lightening to its gray beginnings of the day. She...
Reviews-
  • AudioFile Magazine Joe Morton's skills are tested in this outstanding rendition of Doctorow's novel about Sherman's march and the final months of the Civil War. Working by nuance and inflection rather than mimicry of voices, Morton handles a Chaucerian cast of types and individuals, fictional and historical, ranging from a hysterical Georgia dowager to an unflappable army surgeon, from plantation slaves and Irish immigrant soldiers to the president of the land. Their stories all voice the "sound of expectation" that the end of the war raises in every character. Morton's highly competent delivery may lack something of the urbane wit and playfulness of the novel, but he gives full expression to Doctorow's distinctive blend of period vocabulary and phraseology. Morton may be the one reader capable of rendering the full power and range of this complex and many-toned novel, and here he gives one of his finest performances. D.A.W. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award (c)AudioFile, Portland, Maine
  • St. Louis Post-Dispatch "E.L. Doctorow is a national treasure."
  • The New York Times Book Review, about Sweet Land Stories "Beautifully written, meticulously plotted, scrupulously imagined."
  • Los Angeles Times, about City of God "In the assured hands of Doctorow, City of God blooms with a humor and a humanity that carries triumphant as intelligent a novel as one might hope to find these days."
  • Newsweek, about The Book of Daniel "A ferocious feat of the imagination . . . Every scene is perfectly realized and feeds into the whole--the themes and symbols echoing and reverberating."
  • The New York Times, about Ragtime "One devours it in a single sitting."
  • The New York Times, about World's Fair "Marvelous . . . You get lost in World's Fair as if it were an exotic adventure. You devour it with the avidity usually provoked by a suspense thriller."
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