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Caleb's Crossing: A Novel (edition 2011)

by Geraldine Brooks

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1,9601253,469 (3.86)151
Member:judithz
Title:Caleb's Crossing: A Novel
Authors:Geraldine Brooks
Info:Viking Adult (2011), Edition: 1st, Hardcover, 320 pages
Collections:Your library
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Tags:jz40, fiction, kindle

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Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks

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Showing 1-5 of 126 (next | show all)
I enjoyed this, as I do all of Brooks' writing. Although a little slow to start, it was engrossing. A little strange, that while I was reading it, I thought it was great - but once I finished, thinking back on the book, I realized that the characters were not very well-formed. Caleb's character is stronger in the beginning, but once he moves into the Mayfield house there just isn't much there. Definitely a great historical read, especially for Brooks fans (I absolutely love the way she can take a little piece of historical info, and build such wonderful stories around it), but missing that something that her earlier works had. ( )
  bookwormam | Jul 8, 2014 |
That an American Indian, a member of the Wopanaak tribe, graduated from Harvard in 1665, more than a century before American independence, seems amazing today, as it must have seemed then. It becomes even more amazing when you consider that the second member of his tribe to earn a Harvard degree didn't do it until 2011. Beyond that little is actually known about Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk, Geraldine Brooks imaginatively fills in the blanks in her 2011 novel "Caleb's Crossing." The title refers literally to his crossing over from the island now known as Martha's Vineyard to the mainland to attend the college and figuratively to his crossing over the wide gap between two cultures.

Brooks tells her story through the eyes of Bethia, the daughter of a Christian missionary to the island Indians, and indeed the novel is more about her than it is about Caleb. The two become secret friends as children and become familiar with each other's language and culture. Each possesses a great intellect and a thirst for knowledge. The irony is that while Caleb is permitted to attend Harvard, Bethia is not because the college admits men only. Yet Bethia finds a way to get a Harvard education anyway, getting a job as a servant that allows her to eavesdrop on college lectures.

There is much here about the negative attitudes of the day toward both Indians and women, and especially Indian women, as we find when an Indian girl in the Harvard community becomes pregnant and Bethia puts her position on the line to save her.

The novel spans many years in its 300 pages, and Bethia is a very old woman when she concludes her story. Caleb, however, died while still a young man, perhaps a victim of the very culture he crossed such a wide divide to join. ( )
  hardlyhardy | Jun 18, 2014 |
I was completely enthralled as I began Caleb's Crossing. The attention to historical detail and diction were exquisite. Even the typeface of the novel plunged me into the era. (Brioso, described by Typekit.com: Brioso displays the look of a finely penned roman and italic script, retaining the immediacy of hand lettering while having the scope and functionality of a contemporary composition family. Brioso blends the humanity of written forms with the clarity of digital design, allowing designers to set pages of refined elegance.)

I loved the scenes where Bethia explored the island with Caleb, and wished they'd lasted longer. I wanted to print out the cover in poster size and hang it on my wall.

Author Geraldine Brooks makes interesting choices with the first person narrator. She tells the story as though Bethia is writing it down at various times in her life. This allows her to skip over vast periods of time, just summarizing the high and low points. Another review criticized her for "phoning in" the ending, and I don't disagree. I would have enjoyed a longer novel with more richly described scenes, rather than recaps.

I feel like the development of Caleb's character halts as soon as he enrolls at Harvard. We only catch glimpses of him and I feel like we don't really know him anymore. Maybe Bethia doesn't either.

I still give it a 5-star "It was amazing" review, because although I wanted more from Caleb's Crossing, I found it completely captivating. ( )
  keneumey | Jun 4, 2014 |
The first Native American to graduate from Harvard University.

This was the fourth book I'd read by Geraldine Brooks, whose novel, The Year of Wonders is one of my all-time favourites. Unfortunately Caleb's Crossing didn't quite grab me in the same way, possibly because the historical character didn't feature centrally in the narrative. In addition, being historical fiction, the ending was decreed by history and my reaction was 'Oh no, after all that!', but of course, that was not a failing on Ms Brooks' part.

The main character was Bethia, who first meets Caleb as a child, wandering the countryside near her home. They share a love for their country and meet in secret, for their liaison, though innocent, would be disapproved of. Later she works at the university, attempting to glean what learning she can, while working behind the scenes.

It is the story of the desperate search for learning, for Bethia, as a Christian woman in the seventeenth century, and for Caleb, as a downtrodden 'native' in his newly-white country. It also narrates the early days of the college that was to become the noble institution of Harvard University.

Very little is known about Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck, the first Wampanoag to attend university and get an education, despite of all the prejudices against him. He graduted in 1665.

This was an interesting read and I learned a fair bit from it, but it was rather slow moving and required some effort to keep going.
I listened to the unabridged 12 hours and 9 minutes audio version, narrated by Jennifer Ehle, perhaps some editing would have helped keep my attention.

Also read by Geraldine Brooks:
The Year of Wonders: 5 stars
People of the Book: 3 stars
Nine Parts of Desire (non-fiction): 5 stars ( )
  DubaiReader | May 17, 2014 |
As many people have noted, this book is less about Caleb, and more about the narrator Bethia. Caleb was a real person and very little is known about him. Except for a few established facts, most of the story is fiction . Brooks is NOT an indigenous American, so may not have felt the right to narrate from that point of view. Seeing Caleb through the eyes of the female outsider adds a lovely poignancy and mystery to his character. It seemed more respectful to whoever Caleb really was to not tell the story from his perspective. ( )
  FAR2MANYBOOKS | Apr 5, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 126 (next | show all)
...This is a book for grown-ups written by Geraldine Brooks, who not only respects history, she loves it. So while she sets up a story that's easy to fall into, she doesn't shy away from the realities of those times. And Bethia and Caleb's lives take some unexpected turns. The result is a satisfying but sobering look at the early days of this country. This is a great pick for lovers of historical fiction...
added by Jcambridge | editNPR, Lynn Neary (Jan 1, 2012)
 
“Caleb’s Crossing” could not be more enlightening and involving. Beautifully written from beginning to end, it reconfirms Geraldine Brooks’s reputation as one of our most supple and insightful ­novelists.
 
While no masterpiece, this work nevertheless contributes in good measure to the current and very welcome revitalization of the historical novel.
added by Shortride | editKirkus Reviews (Apr 15, 2011)
 

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Geraldine Brooksprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ehle, JenniferNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Dedication
For Bizuayehu, who also made a crossing
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He is coming on the Lord's Day.
Quotations
So it is, out here on this island, where we dwell with our faces to the sea and our backs to the wilderness. Like Adam's family after the fall, we have all things to do. We must be fettler, baker, apothecary, grave digger. Whatever the task, we must do it, or else do without.
On a day so Godsent, your mind is untroubled, the entire world seems well. You gird for tragedy on a different sort of day--a day of bleak gray sky, blowing mists and bitter, howling winds. You pray to avert ill fate on such a day. This I know.
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Book description
When Pulitzer Prize winner Geraldine Brooks came to live on Martha's Vineyard in 2006, she ran across a map by the island's native Wampanoag people that marked the birthplace of Caleb, first Native American to graduate of Harvard College--in 1665. Her curiosity piqued, she unearthed and fleshed out his thin history, immersing herself in the records of his tribe, of the white families that settled the island in the 1640s, and 17th-century Harvard. In Caleb's Crossing, Brooks offers a compelling answer to the riddle of how--in an era that considered him an intellectually impaired savage--he left the island to compete with the sons of the Puritanical elite. She relates his story through the impassioned voice of the daughter of the island's Calvinist minister, a brilliant young woman who aches for the education her father wastes on her dull brother. Bethia Mayfield meets Caleb at twelve, and their mutual affinity for nature and knowledge evolves into a clandestine, lifelong bond. Bethia's father soon realizes Caleb's genius for letters and prepares him for study at Harvard, while Bethia travels to Cambridge under much less auspicious circumstances. This window on early academia fascinates, but the book breathes most thrillingly in the island's salt-stung air, and in the end, its questions of the power and cost of knowledge resound most profoundly not in Harvard's halls, but in the fire of a Wampanoag medicine man.
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Once again, the author takes a remarkable shard of history and brings it to vivid life. In 1665, a young man from Martha's Vineyard became the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College. Upon this slender factual scaffold, she has created a luminous tale of love and faith, magic and adventure. The narrator of the story is Bethia Mayfield, growing up in the tiny settlement of Great Harbor amid a small band of pioneers and Puritans. Restless and curious, she yearns after an education that is closed to her by her sex. As often as she can, she slips away to explore the island's glistening beaches and observe its native Wampanoag inhabitants. At twelve, she encounters Caleb, the young son of a chieftain, and the two forge a tentative secret friendship that draws each into the alien world of the other. Bethia's minister father tries to convert the Wampanoag, awakening the wrath of the tribe's shaman, against whose magic he must test his own beliefs. One of his projects becomes the education of Caleb, and a year later, Caleb is in Cambridge, studying Latin and Greek among the colonial elite. There, Bethia finds herself reluctantly indentured as a housekeeper and can closely observe Caleb's crossing of cultures. Like the author's beloved narrator Anna, in Year of Wonders, Bethia proves an emotionally irresistible guide to the wilds of Martha's Vineyard and the intimate spaces of the human heart.… (more)

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