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Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks

Caleb's Crossing (edition 2011)

by Geraldine Brooks

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2,1251383,082 (3.86)167
Title:Caleb's Crossing
Authors:Geraldine Brooks
Info:Fourth Estate (2011), Paperback, 320 pages
Collections:Books Read in 2012
Tags:Fiction, Adult

Work details

Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks

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Showing 1-5 of 138 (next | show all)
A really wonderful book. It tells the story of Caleb Cheeshateaumauk, the first Native American to obtain a bachelor's degree from Harvard College, in 1661 (all of this is fact). He was from the Wopanaak tribe of what is now Martha's Vineyard. And the fictional story is told through the voice of a young woman, daughter of a missionary to the Indians. ( )
  Phyllis.Mann | Jul 13, 2015 |
Bethia Mayfield, the narrator of this book, is a Calvinist, and at the beginning it's hard to relate to her worldview. I think that one of the biggest challenges of historical fiction is to create characters who are authentic and let the reader in on another world, but are still close enough to our way of thinking to relate to. A lot of historical fiction has protagonists who are just like contemporary people in historical costumes. That's not the case here, which is good, but made this a bit heavier than a lot of what I've been reading lately. The world was pretty bleak there, too -- lots and lots of death. Towards the end of the book, when the narrator is older, her perspective becomes broader and more sympathetic to modern ears.

I enjoyed the author's perspective on the island, where I live, but as I tried to picture where the characters were, geographically, sometimes things didn't quite add up for me. On the whole, though, this is an excellent book and an interesting view of the Vineyard in the early days of English presence here, and also the earliest chapters of Harvard's history. Cambridge sure is a lot nicer now! ( )
  Amelia_Smith | May 2, 2015 |
The Caleb in the title of this book was a real person - Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck, the first Native American to graduate from Harvard University, in 1665.  He was a member of the Wampanoag tribe on what is now Martha's Vineyard island off Massachusetts.

The narrator of the story, though, is the completely fictional Bethia Mayfield (although her grandfather, father, and brother are based on the real Thomas Mayhew and his son and grandson). Bethia is the daughter of a minister working to convert the Wampanoag, and Caleb becomes his star pupil.  Unbeknownst to him, though, Bethia and Caleb met many years earlier, and taught each other their languages.

For me, Bethia was a fascinating character, embodying the restrictions of women of that era.  For example, although she was smarter than her brother, she could not be taught beyond the bare minimum (how to read), and picks up most of her knowledge (of Latin, Greek, Hebrew, history) by eavesdropping.  Her life was incredibly hard, especially when her grandfather (after her father's death) indentures her as a servant at the "prep school" her brother is sent to in his attempt to enter Harvard, in exchange for his tuition.

After listening to a few discs, I could not take actress Jennifer Ehle, the reader of the audiobook, any longer. She e-nun-ci-a-ted ev-er-y sing-le syl-la-ble, and it was starting to drive me crazy!  I think perhaps she was trying to "be" Bethia, and perhaps felt the character would have spoken that way in the late 1660s, but I found it annoying after a while.  Bethia's use of now-archaic words ("salvages" for "savages," for example) and phrasing appropriate for both the time period and Puritan characters was enough, the extra enunciation was too much and unnecessary.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[The audiobook and a hardbound copy were borrowed from and returned to my university library and my local public library respectively. This review also appears on Bookin' It.] ( )
1 vote riofriotex | Mar 30, 2015 |
I enjoyed the picture of 17th century life in New England. The strictures of the Puritans, the difficulties of acquiring food clothing and shelter, and the rationalized exploitation of the Native Americans were made dramatically clear. The actual hero, Caleb, who really existed and did graduate from Harvard, was not the center of the book. It is really about the life story of a young girl named Bethia who wants to study like a boy! (Shades of [Yentl, the Yeshiva Boy ]by [Sholom Aleichem] ). She and Caleb form a friendship which disappointingly did not turn into romantic love. They learn each other's languages and wander through the natural world together, hunting, fishing and playing as children. Bethia's father wishes to convert the Native Americans to Christianity and arranges for two of those boys to be prepped for Harvard. The real Caleb died of Tuberculosis shortly after graduation as did the Caleb in the book. After a period as an indentured servant (to pay for her slow witted brother to attend school), Bethia marries a scholar who goes to Italy to study medecine, and returns to Cambridge and finally Martha's Vineyard. I enjoyed the story of Bethia but was disappointed in the skimpy treatment of Caleb. The description of the Wampanoag spiritual life in contrast to Puritan Christianity is the crux of the book. ( )
  almigwin | Mar 29, 2015 |
Fantastic account of early English & Native American life in 1660s. For once, Brooks gives conclusion to her characters and story (unlike Year of Wonders) and her conclusion is not hurried and unthought through (like People of the Book). ( )
  olongbourn | Mar 1, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 138 (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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For Bizuayehu, who also made a crossing
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He is coming on the Lord's Day.
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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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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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