I just finished The March
and found it to be one of the better novels about the American Civil War I've ever read. It's easy for writers to get caught up in melodrama and sentimentality when writing about the Civil War, but Doctorow manages to avoid a lot of the traps (although not all of them).
Basically the novel is about Sherman's march to the sea as seen through the eyes of various soldiers and citizens on both sides, and the devastation and havoc left in his army's wake. Since I have no authentic war experiences, I can't say first-hand whether the book is realistic or not. But a lot of it does sound like reports from the Iraq War -- what happens when conventional government collapses and its citizens are forced to rely on a conquering military for survival. Since the military's goals are often in direct conflict with the goals of the average civilian, the results are often tragic. But The March
doesn't read like a tragedy -- it's more about the capacity of humans to cope with the end of life as they know it, and make their way in a dangerous new world. Ultimately, it's a hopeful book.
The lives of the various characters often intersect and intertwine, creating much of the novel's plot and momentum. Sherman himself is a major character, and an interesting one. The book only occasionally takes a wrong turn, and for me the ending is unfortunately one of those wrong turns -- it seems a bit too neat and bright, given all that preceded it. In fact, I'd say the ending keeps the book in the realm of the good and not the great. But the journey to the final page is very involving.
Reccomended, even to those who don't normally read historical fiction. Maybe this will eventually be considered a minor novel in Doctorow's canon, but it's an involving and quick read and parts of it will stay with you.