This winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award narrates the destructive 1864 march by Union General William Tecumseh Sherman, who lead 60,000 Union troops—and a motley crew of hangers on—east through Georgia to the sea, then up into the Carolinas.
[Doctorow's] splendid new novel ... combines the author’s saturnine strengths with an elegiac compassion and prose of a glittering, swift-moving economy ... The March...offers an illumination, fitful and flickering, of a historic upheaval that only fiction could provide. Doctorow here appears not so much a reconstructor of history as a visionary who seeks in time past occasions for poetry ... Doctorow, at ease in the nineteenth century, demonstrates an impressive familiarity with military logistics and tactics prior to fully mechanized warfare ... The March carries us through a multitude of moments of wonder and pity, terror and comedy, to the triumph of Southern surrender and the sudden tragedy of Lincoln’s assassination. Sherman’s march is large enough, American myth enough, to pull even a laggard recruit along, and to hold Doctorow’s busy imagination fast to the reality of history even as he refreshes our memory of it.
Call it peristaltic storytelling: that process by which a writer captures his audience not by creating loose ends that must be followed, but by swallowing the reader whole and then conveying him—firmly, steadily, irresistibly— toward a fated outcome. E. L. Doctorow's heart-squeezing fictional account of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman's fiery, rapacious last campaign through the cities and countryside of the Confederate South moves along in the manner I've described—a narrative style that couldn't be more fitting because it reflects, we come to see, the way that Sherman's conquering army moved ... Yes, war is hell, and The March affirms this truth, but it also says something that most war novels leave out: hell is not the end of the world. Indeed, it's by learning to live in hell, and through it, that people renew the world.
E.L. Doctorow's teeming fictional account of the army's progress through Georgia and the Carolinas, razing cities and plantations and sweeping up in its wake a mongrel procession of freed slaves and white refugees, is an extraordinary achievement, bringing together historical and invented characters and reviving with abundant color and energy an episode of American history whose consequences still reverberate in contemporary race relations. In the hands of a less skilled writer, such moral echoes might easily have been overplayed, but Doctorow treads with care and subtlety around the subject of slave-holding and introduces no anachronism; his characters' thoughts on freedom, predestination and race are consistently of their time and the reader is left to draw whatever inferences he or she may. Most remarkable is the author's expert choreography of his enormous cast ... Part of Doctorow's purpose is to reproduce the chaos and random cruelty of war; a number of other characters are introduced, complete with loves, fears and dreams, only to die horribly a few pages later. The obvious flaw with this approach is that the novel feels too diffuse and the reader grows wary of becoming attached to any one character ... Yet Doctorow invests even the smallest cameo with humanity and significance. Both dialogue and inner monologue are exquisitely rendered ... Doctorow's masterly novel resurrects a bloody conflict whose causes are not necessarily buried in the past.