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Topic: The March by E. L. Doctorow--Discussion Invitation

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Subject: The March by E. L. Doctorow--Discussion Invitation
Date Posted: 2/21/2009 3:14 PM ET
Member Since: 8/30/2007
Posts: 3,237
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Sheila M. and I were chatting on the new history forum, and discovered we had a couple of books in common on our TBR lists: Hiroshima by John Hersey and The March by E. L. Doctorow. We decided to read and discuss each one on the appropriate forum (Hiroshima there as it's non-fiction, The March here as it's historical fiction) and invite anyone who wants to read along and chime in to do so.

We'll be reading Hiroshima first, and discussing it on the History forum starting March 6. Then we'll begin discussing The March on this thread on March 16. This will give Sheila time to do some traveling and me to (please God!) finish my bathroom remodel.

So if you haven't read them and want to, or if you have read them and want to talk about them, please mark your calendar and have some fun with Sheila and me.

Date Posted: 2/22/2009 4:42 PM ET
Member Since: 8/20/2006
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I'm looking forward to the discussion Janelle :-)

Date Posted: 2/23/2009 6:59 PM ET
Member Since: 10/29/2005
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I read this soon after it was released and wasn't all that impressed. It had quite a few inaccuracies that served no point to the story. I usually don't mind if you change the history a bit for the good of the story, but these changes didn't seem to serve a point. Also, so much of the story was totally implausible. I didn't leave the book feeling as if Doctorow had something new to add to the world of Civil War fiction that hadn't already been said and said better by other authors.

I do thiink he covered the bleakness of life then very well. That's the first adjective that springs to mind when I think of this book; bleak, very bleak.

I hope you have better luck with it. ;-)

Date Posted: 3/15/2009 10:56 AM ET
Member Since: 8/30/2007
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I have unexpected company here till Tuesday, so I'll start us out in our discussion on Tuesday afternoon, the 17th. Hope to see you then!

Date Posted: 3/17/2009 12:54 PM ET
Member Since: 8/30/2007
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All righty, so I got the book read--I didn't think I was going to get it done in time, but I did!

I've read many books on the Civil War, but none about Sherman's march to the sea, unless you count Gone With the Wind, in which Sherman's burning of Atlanta is a main plot point.

I particularly enjoyed the imagery Doctorow used in the first part of the book, of the marching army as a cloud of dust, a stench in the air, and a noise like a storm. And the marching army means different things to the people who are swept up in it. In one of the opening scenes, the slaves at one plantation are standing listening for the army to come, and they see its arrival as a brown cloud--it was a powerful scene, and it made me think of the pillar of cloud that led the Israelites in the Bible. But to others, that army brings terrible things. Even for the freed slaves, the army's arrival is not always a positive thing.

Once the march turns into the Carolinas, the cohesiveness of the imagery--and the story--seems to fall apart a little bit. But the characters manage to hold it together. I thought the brutality and the mindlessness of war came through really well, and the sense of individuals caught up in something far beyond their abilities to deal with. And yet most of them did deal with what happened to them.

What did you think, Sheila?

Date Posted: 3/17/2009 2:05 PM ET
Member Since: 8/20/2006
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I'm liking the book also Janelle. I haven't quite finished it. I have not read a lot on the Civil War. I am also reading The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara. It is excellent so far.

I agree that the first part is better than the the latter. Don't get attached to any characters because there is a lot of death but, to me, that is realistic. The number of casualties during the Civil War were staggering. I liked that the characters are a cross-section of life . . . rich, poor, slaves, honorable, dishonorable, Union, Confederate, etc. I liked what you wrote here: the sense of individuals caught up in something far beyond their abilities to deal with. It was an overwhelming time.

I'll add more when I finish reading the book tomorrow.

Date Posted: 3/19/2009 3:09 PM ET
Member Since: 8/30/2007
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I may be trying too hard, but I did think about some parallels between The March and Hiroshima...the sense of having one's life completely razed by a war, being a survivor in the midst of tremendous amounts of death and what that means for each survivor individually.

I was reading another book about some British who were marched all over Malaya as prisoners of the Japanese during the war, and the author remarked that the weakest of the group were quickly winnowed out by death--either from illness or from just giving up, and it was the strongest physically as well as mentally who survived, and that certainly seems true in both of these narratives as well. There's also such an element of luck involved in being a survivor.

 

Date Posted: 3/20/2009 8:06 PM ET
Member Since: 8/20/2006
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I enjoyed the last 50 pages. Doctorow wound up the story pretty well. I would have liked to know what was written in the letter Pearl was carrying to Clarke's family! I liked the honorable Stephen Walsh. With all of the deaths I believe a lot of people probably settled into unconventional families. Doctorow really gave a gritty feeling to the war, not a sanitized version by any means. I feel like I have a better understanding of the miseries of the soldiers and the inhabitants of the towns involved in the war.

I noted just one obvious historical inaccuracy. I believe it was Hood, not Beauregard that lost The Battle of Atlanta.

While I enjoyed this book and Doctorow's writing, I am a little surprised at the awards it won. Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, Winner of the Pen/Faulkner Award, and a National Book Award Finalist. It was good but not outstanding IMHO.

Date Posted: 3/23/2009 11:01 PM ET
Member Since: 8/30/2007
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I didn't catch that about the generals--you'd think that big a mistake would have gotten caught somewhere! Sheesh--I don't think anyone proofreads books before they go to press anymore!

I think people just throw awards at writers like Doctorow no matter what they write. I liked this book better than World's Fair, though, which is the only other of his books I've read.

Thanks for chatting about these books with me, Sheila! None of my real-life friends are readers, so it's really fun to talk about some of the things I read.

What else do ya got on your TBR list? LOL!

Date Posted: 3/24/2009 9:47 AM ET
Member Since: 8/20/2006
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This was my first book by Doctorow. I agree with you about awards sometimes getting bestowed upon well respected authors no matter what they write. I also have Billy Bathgate which I think I will read some day - the time period is interesting to me.

I have enjoyed discussing the books with you also, Janelle. I have friends that read but they mostly read romance and chick lit, two genres I rarely read. You helped me knock two books off Mt. TBR :-)

PM me or post here with some books you have on your TBR and I will do the same and let's see if we have any others in common. I like that we had a loose time schedule and informal chat. I'm at work right now but I can look at my bookshelves tomorrow and get back with you.