"We have had enough of white people ordering our existence! There are men of my own race more versed in how to fetch and carry than you will ever be. And there are Negro preachers aplenty who know the true language of our souls. A free people must learn to manage its own destiny." (March, p. 268).
This line, spoken near the end of the novel March by an African-American woman named Grace, has stayed with me for several days. I turned a flap on the page down just as I read it, and have returned to it often. Perhaps it is because I have been thinking about the Civil Rights Movement recently, and the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Perhaps it is because I have been thinking about Barack Obama's candidacy, and what it means, and doesn't mean. (I skimmed Shelby Steele's latest essay/book at the bookstore recently; he weighs in on Obama's candidacy himself.) Perhaps it is because I've been hearing about Bill Cosby's crusade lately as well, how he has been traveling to speak to black communities in large cities. By far the most radical thing I have heard that he says, is: I don't care what white people think.
That being said, this is not one of the main themes of the novel, by Geraldine Brooks. This book imagines the absent father from Louisa May Alcott's novel, Little Women. As Alcott's novel imagines how these four young women grew up during one year, so also this novel imagines how Mr. March (and Marmee, as well) grew from his experience of war. We meet both March and Marmee as both idealistic and flawed people, who love each other but hurt and misunderstand each other, and whose best intentions sometimes result in tragedy. It's not just their sins, but their virtues that sometimes wound.
The depiction of the war is also harrowing and heartbreaking: realistic in the cruelty of the South and the mixed motives of many in the north.
We will be discussing this book tomorrow at our church's book group meeting. I'm looking forward to what more we will uncover.
with nods to Besomami for the idea of recording and reviewing books finished in 2008.