Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks

TitleCaleb’s Crossing
Author: Geraldine Brooks
Genre: historical fiction
ISBN: 9780670021048
Length: 300 pages
Published: 2011
Source: public library
Rating: 5/5
Resolutions/Challenges: an extra for my Published in 2011 Resolution

Reason for Reading: I have loved my experiences with Geraldine Brooks (People of the Book and Year of Wonders), so I just HAD to read her latest release 🙂


In 1665, Caleb Cheeshah-teaumuck was the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College. Here, Pulitzer Prize winner Brooks imagines that Caleb was befriended by Bethia Mayfield, whose minister father wants to convert the neighboring Wampanoag and makes educating Caleb one of his goals. Bethia, herself desperate for book learning, ends up as an indentured servant in Cambridge, watching Caleb bridge two cultures.

My Thoughts: The description for the book, and the title itself, were misleading to what was contained within the story. Both greatly allude to a story of Caleb’s life. But, in reality, it is of the life of Bethia Mayfield, a minister’s daughter, who grew up living on the island that is now Martha’s Vineyard (off the Northern East Coast of the US), neighbor to the Wampanoag-speaking Native Americans. I imagine it would be easier for any author to write from the perspective of a 17th century colonist than it would be from the perspective of a Native American from that time, as one group left many personal accounts of their lives (diaries, letters, etc.) and the other didn’t. And a lot of the story did focus on Bethia’s relationship with Caleb, so we did learn a bit about Caleb’s life before, during, and shortly after his time at Harvard. Nevertheless, the story was amazing. I don’t think that I’ve read anything about this time before now, except for The Crucible by Arthur Miller in school. But it was great to read a story from a colonist’s perspective, especially a colonist who liked the Native Americans and didn’t just want to force them out–someone who acknowledged that while “heathen” they knew what they were doing in certain areas.

As far as this story was concerned, I was never uninterested in the story. I’m not saying I couldn’t put it down, but I was definitely not as willing to put it down as I usually am with a book I’m reading 🙂

I have the vague remembrance of religion playing a part in The Year of Wonders and I know it played a part in People of the Book, as “the book” is a religious book and I read it only about 9 months ago (I read PotB about 5-6 years ago, so I don’t remember much). And it was obviously a large part of this novel, as Bethia’s father was a missionary who tried to convert the Native Americans on the island. But I’m beginning to wonder why religion is always a part, large or small, in Brooks’ novels. I haven’t read March yet, but I have it on my shelf, having actually bought it. And I’m going to guess it takes part there, as well, as it is Mr. March from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott and that family was religious in that story and the description calls him a Union chaplain. Hmmm…

Something I really liked about this story was the way that Brooks combined some present and past in the story together. Let me explain, at the beginning of the second part, Bethia was working as an indentured servant in a school where her brother Makepeace was a pupil. But I had no idea how that came to be. It was an immediate leap to the present. And then, Brooks continued the story as Bethia wrote her past experiences, which explained how she got there. It was just a great way to draw me in and make me that much more interested. Because I just had to know how she got there, you know?

I definitely recommend this to any Brooks fan or person interested in early relationships between American colonists and Native Americans (as far as fiction is concerned).

Favorite Passages:

“‘Bethia, why do you strive so hard to quit the place in which God has set you?’ His [Father’s] voice was gentle, not angry. ‘Your path is not your brother’s, it cannot be. Women are not made like men. You risk addling your brain by thinking on scholarly matters that need not concern you. I care only for your present health and your future happiness. It is not seemly for a while to know more than her husband…” (p16)

It just upsets me that anyone ever thought this way about women, and other groups of people. Stupid wealthy white men 😛

“I felt disgust at the behavior of those all about me, our low willingness to steal and deceive even as we preened and boasted of our godly superiority.” (p31)

This has always bugged me about some people who act all high and mighty and super religious and then don’t really act that way 😦

“‘Moshup made this island. He dragged his toe through the water and cut this land from the mainland.’ He went on then, with much animation, to relate a fabulous tale of giants and whales and shape-shifting spirits. I let him speak, because I did not want to vex him, but also because I liked to listen to the stay as he told it, with expression and vivid gesture. Of course, I thought it all outlandish. But as I rode home that afternoon, it came to me that our story of a burning bush and a parted sea might also seem fabulous, to one not raised up knowing it was true.” (p35)

A reason I have problems with organized religion is this. What makes one story true over another? I mean, to me, they’re just stories. There as fantastical as fairy tales sometimes. And there’s hardly ever any proof to them. Since I’m not a person who has blind faith, I need that proof to really believe in something.


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