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Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks
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Caleb's Crossing (edition 2011)

by Geraldine Brooks

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,2871522,784 (3.86)181
Member:heidip
Title:Caleb's Crossing
Authors:Geraldine Brooks
Info:Fourth Estate (2011), Paperback, 320 pages
Collections:Books Read in 2012
Rating:*****
Tags:Fiction, Adult

Work details

Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks

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    BookshelfMonstrosity: Like Caleb's Crossing, The Widow's War is set in a beautifully described seaside village in colonial Massachusetts. With crisp language with a light archaic feel, both novels evoke the plight of a woman struggling to achieve more than society grants her.… (more)
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» See also 181 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 152 (next | show all)
While this is based on the true story of the first American Indians to graduate from Harvard in the late 17th century, it does much more than tell Caleb's story (about which very little is known anyway). Instead, by choosing as the narrator Bethia, the young daughter of the minister of the newly founded colony on what is now Martha's Vineyard, the book is as much (or more) about the struggle of a young woman to educate herself and fight for her independence in a society where a woman's role is strictly limited.
The language that Geraldine Brooks creates for Bethia is a believable mixture of the archaic and religious. The cultural and religious clashes in the conversations between the teenage Bethia and Caleb are a strong point of the novel.
I also admired the way that Brooks has avoided turning it into a simple romantic story of cross cultural forbidden love. There are plenty of dramatic events and yet they often take place off page and are born with the stoicism that must have been common in such harsh times. ( )
  stephengoldenberg | Apr 6, 2016 |
An adept historical novel with a clear-voiced narrator, Bethia, telling of growing up alongside Caleb, an Indian of the Wopanaak Tribe on Martha's Vineyard, who crosses Native American and Puritan cultures to attend Harvard in 1661. As Caleb transverses cultural barriers to pursue a classical education, readers are transported over time barriers to a 17th century New England world view. As with [b:People of the Book|1379961|People of the Book|Geraldine Brooks|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1348809332s/1379961.jpg|3020568], Geraldine Brooks here infuses her fiction with a reverence for scholarship and learning. This missionary has made of me a convert to her work. ( )
  deckla | Apr 5, 2016 |
In Caleb's Crossing, author Geraldine Brooks takes the scant information regarding Caleb Cheeshahteaumauck, the first Native American to graduate from Harvard, and fashions a fictional colonial historical narrative surrounding his life. "Caleb's crossing" refers to not just his crossing from the island to the mainland, but his crossing from one world into another. In actuality, though, this is the story of our narrator, Bethia Mayfield, the daughter of a Calvinist minister. It is set in Massachusetts during the mid-1600's, first at the settlement called Great Harbor on the island that is now Martha's Vineyard and later at Cambridge, by a young Harvard College.

While Bethia is the narrator and her life forms the core of this historical novel, her covert friendship with Caleb allows Brooks to explore the conflicts between the two cultures, as well as the conflicts created by the social and religious customs of the times. Bethia secretly becomes a friend to Caleb, a Wampanoag, before he comes to live with her family to study with her father. She secretly instructs him even while he teaches her his language.

As a girl any further education beyond the rudimentary lessons her father has already taught her is withheld from Bethia, so she must learn in secret, listening to the lessons her father teaches to her brother, and, later, the two Wampanoag young men, including Caleb. Bethia continues her clandestine learning when she ends up going to Cambridge to work while the young men receive further studies.

As she did with Year of Wonders, Brooks has taken a little known historical fact and used it as an inspiration for her novel.She does an excellent job bringing history to life with the language used and the period details. Brooks also thoughtfully shows the role of religion in the community and the conflicts between cultures. Bethia is an especially intriguing, well developed character, firmly placed in the historical setting. She is conflicted, wanting an education but knowing it is not allowed, and struggles to find a way to learn but stay with in the societal expectations of the times.

The character of Caleb, however, is not as well developed as one would expect. In the first section of the novel, when Caleb and Bethia meet as young teens and form a secret friendship, Brooks does a much better job with his character than in the remainder of the novel. His character fell flat in the end. It almost appears that Brooks felt inhibited to fully use her creative license to explore his character once he was at Harvard. Perhaps it would have been better to use his real story as inspiration for her novel, and then not worry about following the few known facts.

Geraldine Brooks is a brilliant writer, though, which helps to transport Caleb's Crossing from what could have been an average novel to a highly recommended one. http://shetreadssoftly.blogspot.com/

Disclosure: I received this novel through the Goodreads First Reads program. ( )
  SheTreadsSoftly | Mar 21, 2016 |
Once again Geraldine Brooks delivers a marvelous work of historical fiction. Set in colonial America, the reader meets a cast of colonists and Native Americans, who struggle to cohabitate. As always, Brooks creates engaging characters whose relationships tell the tale. She adeptly illuminates the common traits shared by all people, as well as the traits which are culturally based, and the complications of trying to force assimilation. Excellent read. ( )
  hemlokgang | Mar 10, 2016 |
This book grew on me. I found Bethia an annoying, ignorant character in the part one. Part two I began to admire her as a strong teenage female in the 17th century. Then Part three brings her pain and you cry with her. ( )
  Jennie.Cole | Feb 24, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 152 (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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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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