May 01, 2011

Caleb's Crossing - Geraldine Brooks

A new Geraldine Brooks novel is something to be savoured and lingered over - I so look forward to a new novel by her and each time I promise myself that I am going to take my time with her words and not rush through to the end of the story - and each time I fail. Caleb's Crossing was no exception.
I bought the book as soon as it came out and started reading it over the easter long weekend, staying up late and getting up early to delve back in to the story. I finished it this morning with mixed feelings - contentment over reading such a great story but sadness for knowing I will never be able to experience it for the first time again!

Caleb's Crossing tells the story of Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk, a member of the Wopanaak tribe of Martha's Vineyard, born around 1646 and the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College. Although Caleb was a real person Brooks has taken what few facts are known of Caleb's life and created a fictional account of his story, including creating a fully fictional character, Bethia Mayfield to narrate the story.

Bethia is the 12 year old daughter of a minister in a strict English puritan settlement on Martha's Vineyard when she first meets the young Caleb and begins to form a friendship with him - each learning of the other's culture and language. Bethia's father is intent on educating and reforming the Native Indians to the English way of life - including it's strict faith and ways of worship - and Caleb becomes one of his pupils much to the disgust of his uncle who is a leader in his tribe.

As in all of her novels it is clear that Brooks has done extensive research and it shows in the way she is able to bring the voices of the characters and the picture of the landscapes across so cleatly to the reader - I really felt as though I was being brought into the time of the 1660's in rural America.

I am still unclear as to why Brooks has used the character of Bethia to narrate Caleb's story (although she does discuss this a little in the afterward of the book). Brooks talks about wanting to give a voice to Caleb and his story in some way and I would have felt a better way to this would have been to enable Caleb (or at least the fictional character) to tell his own story. I thought the character of Bethia was wonderful and I enjoyed reading about her and from her but at times it really felt as though the book should have been titled "Bethia's Crossing".

Don't let that deter you from reading this though - it is a wonderful story that is a joy to read - a brilliant writer telling a fantastic story - what more could a reader want?


Anonymous said...

OH MY GOODNESS does this sound wonderful! I didn't even know Geraldine Brooks was due to put out a new book, and the fact that it's about Native American's to boot? Sign me up - I'm off to go find a copy as we speak! What a great review!

JaneGS said...

Brooks certainly does have quite a range. I mostly liked A Year of Wonders, but still haven't read March (can't read it before I read Little Women, and that also still patiently). The subject matter and approach appeals to me a lot, and Brooks is a good storyteller and writer so I'll have to give this one a go.

JoAnn said...

Can't wait to read this! I really liked Year of Wonders and her nonfiction Nine Parts of Desire. She is also an excellent speaker - my book club went to hear her last year.

Marg said...

I am looking forward to reading this one. How was the ending of this book? I love her books, but often find the ending to be a bit dodgy!

Sabrina said...

Thank you for your review. I already read March and have Year of Wonders up next. It's good to know you enjoyed this one, too.

Karen said...

Hi wereadtoknow - I hope you end up loving it as much as I did!

Hi Jane - Brooks is a fabulous story teller, I agree. Her research is also incredible I think - adds to the authenticity of her stories.

Hi JoAnn - I can imagine she would be a wonderful speaker as well as a writer - I'm so jealous you got to hear her speak!

Hi Marg - I know what you mean about the endings. I would describe the ending of this one as mostly satisfying!

Hi Sabrina - I love Year of Wonders - one of her best I think. Hope you enjoy it!

Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

I'm so excited for this book. I won this in a giveaway and loved Geraldine Brooks' The Year of Wonders and People of the Book as well. She's just a great storyteller and I can't wait to dive into this one.

Karen said...

Hi Coffee - I found this to be a great "dive into book" - hope you enjoy!

Anonymous said...

Its called Caleb's Crossing, but the book is about Bethia. Nothing new here, going over the repressed woman who wants an education and sneaks around to get one. What a wonderful book it would have been if Caleb's struggle had been the focus. Brooks writes well, creates atmosphere and character, but ultimately disappointing subject matter

Canada said...

CALEB'S CROSSING is an emotionally engaging and deeply moving work, a wonderful and moving story of two people trying to find their place in the world and the long road to reach their goal.

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