Doctorow’s previous novels have earned multiple major literary awards. The March should do so as well.

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THE MARCH

William Tecumseh Sherman’s legendary “march” (1864–65) through Georgia and the Carolinas—toward Appomattox, and victory—is the subject of Doctorow’s panoramic tenth novel.

As he did in his classic Ragtime (1991), Doctorow juxtaposes grand historical events with the lives of people caught up in them—here, nearly two dozen Union and Confederate soldiers and officers and support personnel; plantation owners and their families; and freed slaves unsure where their futures lie. The story begins in Georgia, where John Jameson’s homestead “Fieldstone” becomes a casualty of Sherman’s “scorched earth” tactics (earlier applied during the destruction of Atlanta). The narrative expands as Sherman moves north, adding characters and subtly entwining their destinies with that of the nation. Emily Thompson, daughter of a Georgia Chief Justice, finds her calling as a battlefield nurse working alongside Union Army surgeon Wrede Sartorius (who’ll later be reassigned to Washington, where an incident at Ford’s Theater demands his services). “Rebel” soldiers Will Kirkland and Arly Wilcox move duplicitously from one army to another, and the Falstaffian pragmatist Arly later courts survival by usurping the identity of a battlefield photographer. John Jameson’s “white Negro” bastard daughter Pearl becomes her former mistress’s keeper—and the last best hope for melancholy “replacement” northern soldier Stephen Walsh. Sherman’s war-loving subordinate Justin “Kil” Kilpatrick blithely rapes and loots, finding a boy’s excitement in bloody exigencies. There’s even a brief appearance by indignantly independent black “Coalhouse” Walker (a graceful nod to the aforementioned Ragtime). Doctorow patiently weaves these and several other stories together, while presenting military strategies (e.g., the “vise” formed by Sherman’s gradual meeting with Grant’s Army) with exemplary clarity. Behind it all stalks the brilliant, conflicted, “volatile” Sherman, to whom Doctorow gives this stunning climactic statement: “our civil war . . . is but a war after a war, a war before a war.”

Doctorow’s previous novels have earned multiple major literary awards. The March should do so as well.

Pub Date: Sept. 20, 2005

ISBN: 0-375-50671-3

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2005

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Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

CILKA'S JOURNEY

In this follow-up to the widely read The Tattooist of Auschwitz (2018), a young concentration camp survivor is sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor in a Russian gulag.

The novel begins with the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops in 1945. In the camp, 16-year-old Cecilia "Cilka" Klein—one of the Jewish prisoners introduced in Tattooist—was forced to become the mistress of two Nazi commandants. The Russians accuse her of collaborating—they also think she might be a spy—and send her to the Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia. There, another nightmarish scenario unfolds: Cilka, now 18, and the other women in her hut are routinely raped at night by criminal-class prisoners with special “privileges”; by day, the near-starving women haul coal from the local mines in frigid weather. The narrative is intercut with Cilka’s grim memories of Auschwitz as well as her happier recollections of life with her parents and sister before the war. At Vorkuta, her lot improves when she starts work as a nurse trainee at the camp hospital under the supervision of a sympathetic woman doctor who tries to protect her. Cilka also begins to feel the stirrings of romantic love for Alexandr, a fellow prisoner. Though believing she is cursed, Cilka shows great courage and fortitude throughout: Indeed, her ability to endure trauma—as well her heroism in ministering to the sick and wounded—almost defies credulity. The novel is ostensibly based on a true story, but a central element in the book—Cilka’s sexual relationship with the SS officers—has been challenged by the Auschwitz Memorial Research Center and by the real Cilka’s stepson, who says it is false. As in Tattooist, the writing itself is workmanlike at best and often overwrought.

Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-26570-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be...

LOVECRAFT COUNTRY

Some very nice, very smart African-Americans are plunged into netherworlds of malevolent sorcery in the waning days of Jim Crow—as if Jim Crow alone wasn’t enough of a curse to begin with.

In the northern U.S. of the mid-1950s, as depicted in this merrily macabre pastiche by Ruff (The Mirage, 2012, etc.), Driving While Black is an even more perilous proposition than it is now. Ask Atticus Turner, an African-American Korean War veteran and science-fiction buff, who is compelled to face an all-too-customary gauntlet of racist highway patrolmen and hostile white roadside hamlets en route from his South Side Chicago home to a remote Massachusetts village in search of his curmudgeonly father, Montrose, who was lured away by a young white “sharp dresser” driving a silver Cadillac with tinted windows. At least Atticus isn’t alone; his uncle George, who puts out annual editions of The Safe Negro Travel Guide, is splitting driving duties in his Packard station wagon “with inlaid birch trim and side paneling.” Also along for the ride is Atticus’ childhood friend Letitia Dandridge, another sci-fi fan, whose family lived in the same neighborhood as the Turners. It turns out this road trip is merely the beginning of a series of bizarre chimerical adventures ensnaring both the Turner and Dandridge clans in ancient rituals, arcane magical texts, alternate universes, and transmogrifying potions, all of which bears some resemblance to the supernatural visions of H.P. Lovecraft and other gothic dream makers of the past. Ruff’s ripping yarns often pile on contrivances and overextend the narratives in the grand manner of pulp storytelling, but the reinvented mythos here seems to have aroused in him a newfound empathy and engagement with his characters.

If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be doing triple axels in his grave at the way his imagination has been so impudently shaken and stirred.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-229206-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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