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Caleb's Crossing

by Geraldine Brooks

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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3,0951833,498 (3.84)234
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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» See also 234 mentions

English (181)  Italian (1)  All languages (182)
Showing 1-5 of 181 (next | show all)
I listened to the audio book, and enjoyed it. I liked the language style. Sometimes the jumping of time periods was a little confusing, but it didn't really detract from the storyline that much. I will read another of hers to see if I continue to like her writing. ( )
  Wren73 | Mar 4, 2022 |
Great book! Well written and researched. It would be interesting to see the book written from Caleb's point of view. You never really find out how he feels. Maybe that book should be written by a Wampanoag.
The book is more about Bethia than Caleb. I thought that Bethia was a little too idealized, she was too clearly a tool in the author's hand to make the connection to the Wampanoag. ( )
  Marietje.Halbertsma | Jan 9, 2022 |
3.5 stars
I liked this book and found it very informative but not as enjoyable as I would have liked. I found it so interesting that this was based on true events and I felt like I learned something from reading this book. That being said, the title of this book and the description made it seem like this book would be entirely about the first Native American person to go to Harvard, Caleb. However, it was narrated by a woman named Bethia and her family and her relationship with Caleb. This wasn't entirely a negative thing for me because this booked talked about how Bethia really wanted to be educated and go to school for things like Latin but was unable to because she was a girl. There were also other things discussing prejudice towards both women and Native American at this time, which I found interesting to read as a woman. I also enjoyed reading about Bethia's view on the marriage she was going to have to enter. I do wish that Caleb had been included more in later parts of the book. Once he got to Harvard, which I thought would have included Caleb the most, didn't. In fact, I felt like he almost disappeared in some parts of this section. But I did like reading about Caleb's relationship with another Native American boy named Joel. In fact, all the relationships in this book were written very well. There were a lot of people dying in this book and it never really felt like those deaths were written very well. I never felt very impacted and it felt like all the characters moved on incredibly quickly. The book also moved around in time a lot which left me confused at the beginning but I got used to it. I did enjoy this book and felt it was interesting and informative but there were some things that made me not like it. I would recommend it though if you are interested in the topic. ( )
  AKBouterse | Oct 14, 2021 |
It is the authenticity of the voice of the protagonist, Bethia Mayfield, which makes this an intriguing read and such an outstanding literary achievement. I have read only a very limited amount about the Puritan Pilgrims of this era – enough to have recognized some of the major events and names of persons of the time, such as Squanto, Josiah Winslow, and King Philip’s War. And from this perspective, it is not reasonable to attack Ms. Brooks over her manipulation of historical facts or her composite historical characters in this work. This is a novel. It is the historical novelist’s obligation and goal to give the reader a deeper understanding of past times and events through a blend of storytelling and diligent research. In this regard the author has succeeded in full measure. Bethia’s voice rings true, and her use of 17th century vocabulary and phrasing is both charming and captivating. This is done as she relates her story as a bystander to the historical occurrence of Caleb’s crossing from his Wampanaug upbringing to the English culture and becoming the first Native American graduate of Harvard.
As remarkable an achievement and pleasure it is to read that “Caleb’s Crossing “ is, it is not without its flaws. The reader cannot help but hear the scorn in Ms. Brooks’ voice as Bethia struggles with the unfair and unequal treatment of women in her time and society. And not only Bethia’s society, but the Native American culture’s misogyny does not escape. This tone becomes tiresome and preachy by the end of the story. Additionally, she does not quite create that tension in the story that compels the reader to continue. Granted the character study of the young Calvinist girl is intriguing. But Ms Brooks misses her previous level of accomplishment in this work. That being said, “Caleb’s Crossing” is very good and well worth the reader’s time.
( )
  Chipa | Apr 2, 2021 |
I enjoyed this book, but not as much as I have enjoyed some of her others. I found myself just perusing a few parts. Having said that, I give it a strong 4 stars and applaud Geraldine Brooks for not turning an important piece of history into a romance novel. (What made me think she would?) I loved Bethia, who was portrayed as strong, but whose power to change her circumstances was realistically (and tragically) limited by time and place. And although I felt compassion and admiration for Caleb, I was a bit disappointed that I didn't get to know him better. Granted, I think that ultimately added to his authenticity and very well could have been the author's intention. ( )
  GiGiGo | Feb 5, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 181 (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 editionscalculated
Ehle, JenniferNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Dedication
For Bizuayehu, who also made a crossing
First words
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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Wikipedia in English (1)

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.

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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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