On a rainy Georgia night near the end of the Civil War, a soldier named Arly, who is more interested in survival than piety, addresses God about his young companion Will, who “thinks an army at war is a reasonable thing. . . . He thinks we live in a sane life and time, which you know as well as I is not what you designed for us sinners.”
E. L. Doctorow’s 11th novel follows William Tecumseh Sherman’s 1864 march of 60,000 troops and numerous refugees through Georgia and up into the Carolinas. Doctorow describes this mass of people as “a great segmented body moving in contractions and dilations at a rate of twelve or fifteen miles a day, a creature of a hundred thousand feet.” Doctorow crafts a narrative that delves into the lives of a dozen or so characters with incisive detail yet moves along at a riveting pace. This is the rare novel that rewards readers seeking both literary excellence and a gripping story.