Caleb's Crossing: A Novel

by Geraldine Brooks

Hardcover, 2011

Call number




Viking Adult (2011), Edition: 1st, 320 pages


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)

Media reviews

...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
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satisfying but sobering look at the early days of this country. This is a great pick for lovers of historical fiction...
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2 more
“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.

User reviews

LibraryThing member labfs39
He is coming on the Lord's Day. Though my father has not seen fit to give me the news, I have the whole of it.

Thus begins Geraldine Brook's newest novel, and therein lies a hint to my problem with the book: a female narrator from an earlier historic period that has implausible and impossible
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knowledge and modern insight. This same problem plagued her earlier novel, Year of Wonders.

Caleb's Crossing is based on a scrap of historic evidence: a letter written in Latin by Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck, the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College in 1665. This basis for an historic novel is thin, but interesting. How would a young man of the Wampanoag Tribe from Martha's Vineyard end up at Harvard? What would his experience there be like? How would he navigate the enormous social, cultural, and religious differences between his past and present?

Unfortunately, the author chooses to tell this story from the perspective of a young Puritan girl, Bethia. She becomes the vehicle through which the reader tries to hear Caleb's voice. In order to facilitate knowledge of Caleb's life with his tribe, the author has to engineer unlikely free time for a strictly raised Puritan girl to wander the woods, form a relationship with Caleb, and spy on Native ceremonies. Then when Caleb leaves the Island for Cambridge, the author again has to devise an unlikely situation in order for the narrator to stay with the subject. It is awkward and unbelievable. Equally so is Bethia's prodigious ability to learn languages and memorize lessons while eavesdropping from the scullery and her ability to keep a lifelong secret diary written in a most modern voice.

So although Geraldine Brooks has a good ear for story and an interest in historical research, I am becoming less and less impressed with her ability to convey a compelling narrative. Is People of the Book to remain her most accomplished work?
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LibraryThing member Cariola
I enjoyed Brooks' [Year of Wonders] and looked forward to reading her latest novel, a trek into Early American history. Overall, I was not too disappointed, although I don't think it is nearly as good as her previous book. (I haven't read [People of the Book]; the subject matter just didn't sound
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appealing to me.) The blurbs indicated that this was the story of the first native American to attend Harvard, back in the mid-seventeenth century. As others have reported, the real focus of [Caleb's Crossing] is its narrator, Bethia Mayfield, the daughter of a minister in the small settlement of Great Harbor (modern-day Martha's Vineyard). While Bethia's father is more tolerant than others in the community (he chastises his children if they use the term "savages," and he attempts to convert them in a gentler fashion), he still insists on a separation between "us" and "them." Therefore, when Bethia befriends a boy about her own age, they both know that their relationship must remain a secret. Nevertheless, they learn about each other's culture and respect one another as individuals.

Brooks has taken the approach common to many historical novels in depicting her protagonist as a woman of potential with modern ideas who is kept down by misogyny. Bethia has a much greater facility for Latin that her brothers, learning simply by listening in to their lessons; but when she speaks a Latin passage before a visitor, her father becomes irate, reminding her that it's not the place of a woman. (Her mother is only a little better: she also reminds Bethia that her end in life will be marriage and service to her family, but she hints that there's no harm in learning, as long as Bethia keeps it to herself.) As Bethia grows to adulthood, she faces more trials due to her sex: indentured servitude, enforced silence, and managing several suitors, both wanted and unwanted. The novel is, in fact, more a series of Bethia's pre-femininist struggles than the story of Caleb's short but remarkable life.

Which isn't to say that it wasn't fairly enjoyable. Just be forewarned if you find this approach a bit tedious or unbelievable.

The story jumps around a bit in time as, near the end, we learn that a terminally ill Bethia has been jotting down her memories of Caleb.

One other caveat: if you are thinking of listening to this one on audio, DON'T! I almost gave up on it because of the irritating narration by Jennifer Ehle, THE Elizabeth Bennett of the Colin Firth version of [Pride and Prejudice]. How bad can she possibly be? REALLY bad. She reads very, very slowly, focusing so hard on enunciating every word, syllable, and letter clearly that you feel like you're being read to by a bad kindergarten teacher. She goes so far as to pronounce every "a" like the long "a" in "hay," e.g., "I put A shawl and A loaf of bread into A basket and went out the door without saying A word to anyone." It really grates on the nerves!
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LibraryThing member stephaniechase
Stilted and implausible fictionalization of the life of Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck, the first Native American to graduate from Harvard, and his friendship with the Puritan Bethia. Brooks' skill with her historical fiction is the rich tapestry of character, place, and time she is able to weave, a skill
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which has carried her through wildly different time periods. Here, on Martha's Vineyard in the late 17th century, she finally stumbles, presenting the reader with a bland main character in Bethia, and a connection between Bethia and Caleb that falters under the plot points that strive to keep them together.

Brooks' last novel, "The People of the Book," was stunning and rich; perhaps this story, which revolves around a less complex plot, is destined to pale in comparison. It is a shame, as Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck, as a historical persona, must certainly have had a very interesting life for his times.
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LibraryThing member JediJane
I found this pretty disappointing to be honest. Although Geraldine Brooks writes beautifully in the voice of women from past centuries, (I loved Year of Wonder) the plot meandered and I was left feeling that nothing much had really happened. I value immensely the themes of the book - especially the
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idea of limitations placed on women and the irony that even the Native Americans - who were seen as heathens and savages - were given the opportunity of an education whilst women were not. It makes me wonder whether the author is attempting to draw parallels with the position of women in the united States today. The intelligence and subtlety of females and "Indians' is juxtaposed against the narrow-minded stupidity of many of the white men of the original American colony.
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LibraryThing member jmchshannon
True to form, Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks is a well-written glimpse into the hardships of the past. Moreover, it involves a story that does not get much exposure but one that reflects today’s culture even as it picks apart the past.

Ms. Brooks has an excellent eye for historical detail.
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Just as in her previous novels, in Caleb’s Crossing she brings the early colonial period back to life with her attention to the minutest aspect of life in the colonies. Readers get a clear understanding of the Puritan mindset, wherein one’s sin and the question of salvation are uppermost in the mind, as well as the harsh life they live. Ms. Brooks makes sure all readers understand that Bethia’s life is not an easy one and that those moments she steals to ramble across the island are as rare as they are precious.

Of particular interest is the portrayal of the relationship between Native Americans and English colonizers. She presents the relationships with insight, recognizing the racism inherent in their interactions. However, she also tries to show how hidden the racism was; not everyone thought the Native Americans were inferior simply because of the color of their skin. At times informative and other times infuriating, Caleb’s Crossing recognizes the tragedy that became colonial and Native American interactions even as they started with (racist but) good intentions.

Having never heard of Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk, Ms. Brooks quickly drew me into his story with her attention to detail and skill of writing. I not only wanted to learn more about Bethia’s fight for some semblance of education and happiness but also to follow Caleb’s path to Harvard College and beyond. The tragic ending is not necessarily surprising given the time period but it still manages to pack a punch. It has been a long time since I read any historical fiction that took place outside of the Victorian era through World War II, and Ms. Brooks always impresses with not just her writing but her choice of subject as well. Her ability to weave fact within fiction always brings the past to life.
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LibraryThing member keywestnan
Another good one from Brooks, though my favorite is still the first of hers I read, Year of Wonders. I always have a little trouble with the "why I'm writing this account that a person in my situation wouldn't normally be writing" conceit. But Bethia is an engaging character who, for the most part,
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comes across as a believable, if unusually enlightened, woman of her times (late 17th century New England). The book is really more about her than Caleb, the Native American boy who became the first to graduate from Harvard, but that was OK with me.
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LibraryThing member bachaney
Geraldine Brooks' new novel "Caleb's Crossing" takes the reader to Great Harbor (modern day Martha's Vineyard), Massachusetts Colony, in the 1660s. Young Bethia Mayfield is a headstrong young woman who is straining against the traditional role of a woman in Puritain society. When she meets Caleb
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Cheeshahteaumauk, the son of the local Wampanoag chief, the two build a friendship based on their mutual love of the island. Suddenly Bethia's fate changes, and she finds herself traveling to Cambridge with her brother Makepeace and Caleb. Throughout Bethia's young life she finds herself trying to help Caleb in any way possible, while trying to continue to grow her own curious mind. Will Bethia and Caleb survive their crossing into Cambridge academic life, or will it break their spirits for good.

With this novel, Brooks reinforces that she is one of the strongest writers of literay historical fiction out there today. Caleb's Crossing is a compelling story, full of rich characters and historical detail. The novel is a page turner, and each change in the character's circumstances pulled me a little bit deeper into this emotional novel. Although some of the characters in this novel are real, Brooks' fictional characters truly give life to this imagining of the early Puritain colony and how the English interacted with the native peoples. Brooks is very true to the period, and this historical detail, along with her gifts as a storyteller are what really makes this novel strong.
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LibraryThing member CasualFriday
Year of Wonders, Brooks' novel about the Great Plague, is set in 1660s England. Caleb's Crossing is set in roughly the same time period, but across the Atlantic in the New World - specifically, the island that would become Martha's Vineyard. Like Year of Wonders, it is a fictional take on a
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historical reality, in this case the story of Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck, the first native American to graduate from Harvard.

Although Caleb gets the title, it is really the story of Bethia Mayfield, daughter of a minister who hopes to convert the native population to Christianity. She forms a clandestine friendship with Caleb and eventually follows him to school, soaking up as much learning as she can while toiling as an indentured servant to the schoolmaster.

Some members of my book club derided the strong heroine of Year of Wonders as "Superwoman," and there's a touch of that in the portrayal of Bethia, too, but the story is so good one forgives the elements that are farfetched.

Brooks keeps things moving while avoiding predictable melodramatic plot turns. She offers a fair share of calamity without making the whole work depressing. She offers few villains, instead prodding us to understand the characters we are tempted to dislike.

Given all the questions that arise from a native American assimilating into Western culture and in particular into the dour Puritanism of New England, some readers may regret not getting the story from Caleb's point of view. In a poignant scene near the end of the book, we are invited to consider how little we have learned of him and how cavalierly we applauded his abandonment of his people.
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LibraryThing member Schatje
The narrator of Brooks' latest historical fiction is Bethia Mayfield, a Puritan woman living on (what is now known as) Martha's Vineyard in the 1660s.

The Caleb of the title refers to Cheeshahteaumauck, the first Native American to earn a degree at Harvard. The title refers to Caleb's crossing from
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native tribal culture to English white culture, but the book is really more about Bethia's crossing from girlhood to womanhood. As a young girl, Bethia secretly befriends Caleb, a Wampanoag Indian and nephew of the most powerful pawaaw of the tribe. Because of a series of events, she ends up "accompanying" her brother and Caleb to Harvard.

Puritan women were not educated, but Bethia yearns for an education. Unbeknownst to her father, a minister, she listens to him teaching her brother and Caleb and thereby learns Latin, Greek and Hebrew. She furthers her informal education at Harvard by eavesdropping on lectures. Is it credible that a person learn three classic languages merely by listening?

Another weakness is the last section of the novel. It lacks the details that make the first sections so interesting. In the same way, Bethia's relationship with her husband Samuel lacks detail; we are told about the love, but not really shown it, so it is somewhat unconvincing. The relationship between Bethia and Caleb seems much stronger because it is delineated so much more clearly.

The book touches on a number of topics: the conflict between native and white culture and religion, the mistreatment of natives, Puritan religious views, the effects of a totally patriarchal society.

Having enjoyed Brooks' other novels, I eagerly began this one. Unfortunately, I was disappointed.
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LibraryThing member bell7
Bethia Mayfield is the daughter of the preacher on Martha's Vineyard, a man who sees it as his life's work to preach the gospel to the Indians. On one of Bethia's rambles in the wilderness of this land, she encounters a young Wampanoag, whom she renames Caleb, a young man whose friendship she
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treasures, but would never be sanctioned in the 1660s.

I have read other novels by Geraldine Brooks, but never have I been so enthralled with them as I was with Caleb's Crossing. Bethia, our narrator, is a young woman with a keen mind and thirst for knowledge but also devout and not unbelievably modern in her thinking. Caleb was based on a real person, one of the first Wampanoag men to matriculate at Harvard. As in the best historical fiction, time and place - in both Martha's Vineyard and Cambridge - are evocative and realistic with historical details naturally adding to the narrative, showing Brooks' research with a light touch. I now want to follow up with some of the sources mentioned in the afterword to learn more about the time period. In addition to this, Brooks delicately touches on the themes of religion and prejudice without sounding preachy or anachronistic. Truly superb historical fiction.
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LibraryThing member 3goldens
This amazing novel works on so many levels. It is so beautifully written that it is worth reading for the prose alone. Brooks' descriptions of the wild setting of the island and the claustrophobic setting in town make a deep impression. I am a historical fiction junkie, so Brooks had me at the end
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sheets, which feature actual handwritten text from Caleb, the Wampanoag (Native American) who attends Harvard. But the heart of the matter is how Caleb and the narrator, Bethea, make their way through the restrictions of the prevailing culture. I took their struggles to heart, which is why the ending is so bittersweet. I read this book 4 months ago, and can still conjure up vivid scenes. Can't wait to see where Brooks sets her sights next. Her books do not disappoint.
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LibraryThing member rmckeown
One of my favorite books of the last few years is Geraldine Brooks’ The People of the Book. She also won a Pulitzer Prize for March, as well as critical acclaim for The Year of Wonders. Brooks has set all of these novels in remote time periods, and they all share one important similarity. Each
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time, Brooks captures the voice of the characters in their time and place. Her latest novel, Caleb’s Crossing follows this pattern with superb results.

Geraldine Brooks loosely based Caleb’s Crossing on the true story of Caleb, a Native American living near some less than strict Puritans, in 1660, on what is now known as Martha’s Vineyard. He befriends the 15-year-old Bethia Mayfield, daughter of a strict Calvinist minister trying to convert Caleb’s tribe. The two form a bond which lasts for many, many years.

Bethia’s father agrees to tutor Caleb, and another young Indian, Joel, in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew in order for them to qualify for a scholarship dedicated to Native Americans to the recently founded Harvard College in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Before the arrival of Caleb, he tutored Makepeace and Bethia, but his son proved a poor student, and he despaired and stopped the lessons for both his children. He tried again with the two Indians in the hopes that Caleb would inspire his son.

He succeeded with Caleb and Joel, both of whom received the scholarships; however, Makepeace faltered. His father could not afford the cost of sending Makepeace to a preparatory school – along with Caleb and Joel – but he solved this difficulty by sending Bethia as an indentured servant to the headmaster of the school. Bethia narrates the story and reveals many of the secret meetings she has with Caleb. Her struggles with religion and her blooming womanhood are the keystones to the story.

As always, Brooks’ plots have a certain something, which creates vivid images in the mind of the reader. Her attention to detail raises the story to a level of realism I find most admirable. The icing on this marvelous dessert, however, consists of the voice of the narrator. I have spent a fair amount of time studying the 17th century, and have read a few books set in that period, not the least of which is Iain Pears’ An Instance of the Fingerpost. Brooks deserves a place of honor right next to that spectacular novel.

Bethia struggles with her religious views after spending some time with Caleb. He explains to her his pantheon of deities after Bethia tells him of the “one, true God of the Christians.” Brooks writes,

“But then, I remembered the singing under the cliffs. An inner voice, barely audible: the merest hiss. Satan’s voice, I am sure of it now, whispering to me that I already knew Keeskand, that I had already worshipped him many times as I bathed in the radiance of a sunrise, or paused to witness the glory of his sunset. And did not Nanpawshat have power over me, governing the swelling, salty tides of my own body, which, no so very long since, had begun to ebb and flow with the moon. It was good, the voice whispered. It was right and well to know these powers, to live in a world aswirl with spirits, everywhere ablaze with divinity” (36).

Numerous words in the Wampanoag tongue add additional spice to the story. Bethia explains some of the words, some are clear from context, while translation of others are easily found with a smart phone.

Bethia seems a bit too mature for a girl of 15, and sometimes I found this a bit annoying. Nevertheless, In Caleb's Crossing, Geraldine Brooks has another wonderful historical novel to her credit. I can’t wait for the next. 4-1/2 Stars.

--Jim, 9/1/12
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LibraryThing member jeniwren
I listened to the audio cd and an interesting story from its historical perspective set in the small settlement of New Harbour or modern day Martha's Vineyard. Narrated by Bethia, the daughter of a minister in the 1700's. It focuses on Bethia and Caleb , a native American who is the first of his
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race to graduate from Harvard in 1665. Bethia and Caleb form a friendship as children and both have a desire to learn and be accepted by a society that sees them as second class citizens. Bethia is intelligent with a yearning for education however her status never rises above that of housekeeper as was expected for women at that time. Based on a true story, Caleb "crosses" from his native Wopanaak tribe and faith to the Calvinist Christians encroaching on his land and future. For the most part I was completely engaged by the plot and characters and enjoyed the narration by Jennifer Ehle.
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LibraryThing member bacreads
Geraldine Brooks is an author who can take a very small piece (often unknown) of history and craft a wonderful story around it. I liked this book and the calm way it led the reader through the story. I learned a lot about the Native Americans on Cape Cod and how the island was settled. The story of
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Harvard in its early years was interesting and one wonders how it became the celebrated university it is today. This book was not as face paced as some might like but I found it very readable, enjoyable and interesting.
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LibraryThing member Citizenjoyce
Geraldine Brooks' style in this book really amazed me. Being a book about Puritans and Native Americans in the 1600's, and not being an elementary school Thanksgiving play, this is not a happy story. There's extreme misogyny, racism, avarice and religious oppression, which Brooks handles in a very
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strange way. The first 2/3 of the book is one incident of personal oppression after another, enough that I repeatedly considered not finishing. Almost immediately after big infuriating scenes everything would calm down and I could see some of the joy and beauty available in a life of learning or living on a beautiful island - only to be followed by more oppression. In the last 1/3 of the book Brooks shows the ways her characters have overcome personal oppression but concentrates on oppression of whole societies, and somehow, for me, my emotional reaction was not as strong. Isn't it strange that I got such a strong emotional reaction to the personal cruelty, but for the societal persecution I felt more of an intellectual reaction? I wonder if that's because I'm white. I thought this was a very interesting way to handle the story, and I bet I'll be thinking about the effects it had on me for a long time.
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LibraryThing member Warriapendibookclub
“Caleb's Crossing” by Geraldine Brooks

Ros thought this would be a good story. She enjoyed it more than “People of the Book”. The last section left her dissatisfied, Would a girl then, really have been able to manipulate things to such an extent?
Others: Her father encouraged her, I found it
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She did know the limitations of her role.
It was a novel so she could stretch it a bit.
Caleb was fringe figure which was a pity.
Facts got in the way of a good story.
A phonetic glossary would have been good.
She managed the 16th. century language well and made it easy to read.

A good discussion which went on late into the night!


Av: 7.5
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LibraryThing member mrstreme
When Geraldine Brooks moved to her home in Martha's Vineyard, she stumbled across a map of the island that showed the native Wampanoag people - and learned that one of them, Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk, was the first Native American graduate of Harvard College in 1665. This little historical fact
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spawned her latest novel, Caleb's Crossing.

Brooks opted to tell the story through the eyes of young Bethia, the granddaughter of the founders of Martha's Vineyard and a devout Calvinist. Bethia, which means "servant," was true to her name - she served her family, her faith and later her family's legacy by taking care of Caleb and fellow Native American student Joel. When only 12, Bethia met Caleb in the forest, and they forged a friendship that lasted throughout Caleb's life. She taught him English and Christianity; Caleb taught her about tolerance and his own faith. It was these early exchanges that set the foundation for Caleb's academic success later in his life.

Bethia's character is not based on a historical figure, but Brooks, through her detailed research, illustrated what life would be like for a young woman in 1600's Massachusetts. Bethia was smart, but her religion permitted her from being formally educated. As a woman, she was concerned a commodity, used by her family to help get her less-than-brilliant brother into an academy. It was hard to read Bethia's suppression as both a woman and scholar, but Brooks could do no else with her. It was an unfortunate sign of the times.

I love Brooks' writing style and eye for historical detail - both of which are evident in Caleb's Crossing. Admittedly, though, I was not as enraptured by this story as I was with Brooks' earlier books. The plot didn't move quickly enough, and I wanted to know more about Caleb and less about Bethia. I skimmed through some pages in search of some kind of "action" to propel the plot. I found it in bits and pieces, but overall, Caleb's Crossing was a slow-moving story.

If you haven't read Geraldine Brooks, start with her other books and delight in her writing. Save Caleb's Crossing for a lazy day by the fire.
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LibraryThing member PaulaCheg
A book to compare with Three Day Road.
LibraryThing member marient7
Caleb is a young Indian boy who gets a chance to go to Harvard. His friendship with a young girl lasts for his college years until his death.
LibraryThing member hep
Although I enjoyed reading this I didn't think it was as good as Geraldine Brooks other novels. The historical detail was great and as usual her research is immaculate and well woven into the story but I wanted to hear more from Caleb and less from Bethia. At times it felt a bit like a teen read
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and I wanted a bit more depth. However I would still recommend it and snaps to Geraldine Brooks for finding a fascinating sliver of a true historical story and fleshing it out so we feel as if we're listening to real voices from the distant past.
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LibraryThing member KatPruce
What a wonderful read! From the language, to the descriptions of island life, to the many-layered issues that make up the story...this is a masterful piece of fiction. The language employed in the novel is delightful. Bethia's voice is uniquely authentic - using words such as "betimes" and
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antiquated phrases like - wondering "what it was that exercised him so." Her narration helps transport you to the early beginning of English life in the U.S. The characters of Bethia and Caleb (as well as secondary characters) are well-drawn and realistically complex. I love Bethia's spunk and cheered her on in her struggle to gain an education as a woman during that time period. It was also interesting to witness Wopanaak traditions and rituals through the eyes of Bethia who was both innately enthralled and dutifully repulsed by them.

Ms. Brooks supplies a variety of topics to ponder with this story. There are gender and race issues as well as those concerning religion - the Native "heathen" spirituality versus Puritanical faith. These religious disputes lead to the contention between self-preservation versus cultural preservation. Is it right or wrong for Natives to abandon their heritage and assimilate into the English culture? Lots of good topics to roll around in the ol' noggin, no? Overall, I heartily recommend this book - especially to those with a penchant for historical fiction!
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LibraryThing member genejo1
Another wonderful historical fiction tale from Geraldine Brooks. I grow to love her female narrators, starting with Anna in Year of Wonders, her use of language and story telling makes these women's lives real for me.
LibraryThing member khiemstra631
I listened to this book and had a bit of a problem really getting interested in the first third or so of it. The story takes place in the 1600s on an Island off the coast of Boston. As usual for that time period, there's lots of death, and the main protagonist, Bethia, ends up losing everyone in
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her family, except for her brother, when she is in her late teenage years. She has developed a friendship with Caleb, a Wampanoag Indian, who is being groomed to attend Harvard. When her family dies, she ends up as an indentured servant at a preparatory academy near Harvard which Caleb also attends. The story follows Caleb through his graduation and shortly thereafter, ending with a series of flashbacks when the protagonist is quite elderly. There are some surprises in the book, and the latter part moves along pretty well. It is certainly a worthwhile read.
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LibraryThing member tututhefirst
Geraldine Brooks write so well, and she chooses very interesting and often obscure topics from history to fictionalize. When I finished this I had a feeling of satisfaction in that I was impressed with how she handled the topic of women in this time period: how they were often uneducated; given in
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marriage or indentured to others by their male relatives with often no say on their part; how often they died in childbirth. But....

But ...the book was supposed to be about Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck, a young Indian brave who is brought to live with the family of Preacher Mayfield so he can be Christianized and educated. He eventually went on to become the first Native American to receive a degree from Harvard. His friendship with Bethia Mayfield, the daughter of the family forms the framework of Brooks' tale. Despite the title, the story is really about Bethia, about women's struggles, and about the less than honorable way whites treated Native Americans. It is a story of two cultures clashing, of religion being used to justify murder, rape, slaughter, and torture. The publisher's blurb touts this as a tribute to Native Americans who went to Harvard, and I guess we're supposed to feel grateful that Harvard established an "Indian College" back in the late 1600's. The fact that this was a cash cow for Harvard (money being sent from England from the wealthy bible societies) makes it less celebratory in my mind.

The book was released to coincide with the Harvard commencement ceremony last week during with Tiffany Smalley, evidentally the first member of the Martha's Vineyard tribe since Caleb received her degree. It only took 350 years!!!

The fictionalized account of Indians "crossing" leaves the reader pondering. What was crossed? Who crossed? It's impossible for me to celebrate this crossing without a great deal of sadness that it cost so much in human dignity, life, and respect. The story is well worth reading, if for no other reason than to encourage an on-going discussion of the lives described, and the nuances of religious wars. It certainly highlights that we are still facing many of these same issues today, and with all the education we've acquired, we still don't seem to have come very far.

In spite of all this, I do think this is Brooks' best work, and I think I've read them all. She picks interesting topics and weaves fiction around them. You just have to suspend some belief and where she takes the story. The historical details are fascinating and worth the read.
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LibraryThing member GCPLreader
The publicity lead me to believe this was based on the true story of the first Native American (here Wampanoang)-- yes, but it's mainly about Bethia, friend of Caleb and daughter to Martha Vineyard's missionary preacher in the 1660's. Bethia writes a journal that spans her life on the beautiful
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island as she is tormented by her concept of sin and by her determination to find her true path. The book is soooooooooo perfectly written........ but why then was I so disinterested? There's just nothing new here. Yes, fans of the author should read this, but read it for the language and the setting. I bet you'll connect with it a bit better than I did.
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Chautauqua Prize (Shortlist — 2012)
Massachusetts Book Award (Must-Read (Longlist) — Fiction — 2012)
Australian Book Industry Awards (Shortlist — Literary Fiction — 2012)




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