Geraldine Brooks and her husband moved in the 1990s to a small town in Virginia that appeared to have been part of the battlefield of the Civil War. Brooks found bullet holes in the nearby church and unearthed a Union soldier’s belt buckle in her yard. The town had been predominantly abolitionist and Quaker but was situated in a Confederate state. The clash of interests in the area along with its history sparked Brooks’s interest in the war, especially in the ideals for which each side fought.
Her study brought her to Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel Little Women (1868) and an interest in the part of the story that was left out: John March’s experiences in the war. In her novel March (2005), Brooks envisions what happens to Mr. March after he leaves his family to serve as a chaplain for the Union army. As she imagines the story of the March family, Brooks adds a more somber tone to her depiction of the idealistic father and the harsh truths he must face about the institution of slavery and the fight to abolish it. The novel traces twenty years in March’s life, chronicling his journey from innocence to experience as he discovers the darkness at the heart of humankind and in his own soul.