From The March
...Ignoring the shouts at his back, he made his way toward the action, hopping first on a rolling caisson, then slipping off and running forward leaping over rocks, breasting tangled brush--- at this moment almost insanely exhilarated, with his long scarf trailing from his throat as if it were his personal pennant. None of the competition would be able to report what he would see with his own eyes.
He was in a thick stand of trees. He heard gunfire now, and found a large tree and pulled himself up to the crotch of the lowest branch and swung his legs over and sat astride there peering through the smoke, hearing battle at its intimate heart, men screaming, grunting, bullets pinging off logs and rocks. And he could actually feel waves of heat coming off the mass of fired weapons. War changed the weather, it whitened the day ---a pungent smoke flew past him like the souls of the dead hurrying to Heaven. It was only with a sudden rift in the thickened atmosphere that he realized he had misjudged his position and was not in relation to the action that he had supposed. The war had come to him. Lines of men were grappling hand to hand beneath him, wrestling one another on the ground, wielding knives, bayonets, swinging rifles about their heads, their desperation bringing concerted sounds from the depths of them like the chords of a church organ. He had never been closer to war than at this moment and all his reportorial powers of observation were resolved to one terrifying vision of antediluvian breakout. This was not war as adventure, nor war for a solemn cause, it was war at its purest, a mindless mass rage severed from any cause, ideal, or moral principle. It was as if God had decreed this characterless entanglement of brainless forces as his answer to the human presumption. And then all thought was impossible, for Pryce heard the hideous whistle of a cannonball, and as he clasped his hands to his ears he became aware just a moment too late of the shattering treetop that came crashing down upon him.
“Arresting... Doctorow mixes fact and fiction, real characters and made-up ones, to give the reader a bloody, tactile portrait of Sherman’s infamous march and a visceral understanding of the horrors of war... [The March] showcases the author’s bravura storytelling talents and instinctive ability to empathize with his characters… It is Mr. Doctorow’s achievement in these pages that in recounting Sherman’s march, he manages to weld the personal and the mythic into a thrilling and poignant story. He not only conveys the consequences of that campaign for soldiers and civilians in harrowingly intimate detail, but also creates an Iliad-like portrait of war as a primeval human affliction.”
—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“In his brilliant historical work… E.L. Doctorow has brought the end of America’s wretched civil war fearsomely to life… Mr. Doctorow’s writing here is magnificent, the details he selects unerringly trenchant.”
“E.L. Doctorow [is] always astonishing… In The March, he dreams himself backward from The Book of Daniel to Ragtime to The Waterworks to the Civil War, into the creation myth of the Republic itself, as if to assume the prophetic role of such nineteenth-century writers as Emerson, Melville, Whitman, and Poe.”
—John Leonard, Harper’s
“Splendid… carries us through a multitude of moments of wonder and pity, terror and comedy… with an elegiac compassion and prose of a glittering, swift-moving economy.”
—John Updike, The New Yorker
“Spellbinding… a ferocious re-imaging of the past that returns it to us as something powerful and strange.”
—Richard Lacayo, Time
“… [Doctorow] transforms [historical moments] with a freedom and incandescence that have no more to do with the general run of historical fiction than do War and Peace and The Charterhouse of Parma… A serious novel that is at the same time entrancing fun: a panoramic vision of war filtered through its disorders; often brutal and at times, oddly human… The march itself becomes the central character: an image of journey and transformation that puts individuals to a collective test that most truly reveals who they are.”
—Los Angeles Times Book Review