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Caleb's Crossing: A Novel by [Brooks, Geraldine]
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, May 2011: 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. --Mari Malcolm

Review

Praise for Caleb's Crossing

“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 involving novelists.” —Jane Smiley, The New York Times Book Review
 
“Brooks filters the early colonial era through the eyes of a minister’s daughter growing up on the island known today as Martha’s Vineyard…[Bethia’s] voice – rendered by Brooks with exacting attention to the language and rhythm of the seventeenth century – is captivatingly true to her time.” —The New Yorker
 
“A dazzling act of the imagination. . .Brooks takes the few known facts about the real Caleb, and builds them into a beautifully realized and thoroughly readable tale…this is intimate historical fiction, observing even the most acute sufferings and smallest heroic gestures in the context of major events.” —Matthew Gilbert, The Boston Globe
 
“In Bethia, Geraldine Brooks has created a multidimensional, inspiring yet unpredictable character…Bethia’s forbearance, her quiet insistence, the way she creates her life using the best of whatever is handed to her, puts the struggles of American women today in perspective.” —Susan Salter Reynolds, The Los Angeles Times 
 
“Original and compelling. . .[Brooks’ characters] struggle every waking moment with spiritual questions that are as real and unending as the punishing New England winters.”—Paul Chaat Smith, The Washington Post
 
 

Product Details

  • File Size: 2990 KB
  • Print Length: 435 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (May 3, 2011)
  • Publication Date: May 3, 2011
  • Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004Q7DQJA
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #39,789 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jill I. Shtulman TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 3, 2011
Format: Hardcover
What becomes of those who independently and courageously navigate the intellectual and cultural shoals that divide cultures? Is it truly possible to make those crossings without relinquishing one's very identity?

Geraldine Brooks poignantly explores these questions in her latest novel, Caleb's Crossing. The story is based on sketchy knowledge of the life of Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk - the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College -- and a member of the Wampanoag tribe in what is now Martha's Vineyard.

This is truly a work of imagination since the sources on Caleb's brief, tragic, and remarkable life are scant. The voice belongs to the fictional Bethia Mayfield, a minister's quick-minded daughter who gently (and sometimes, not so gently) defies the rigid expectations of a Calvinistic society that demand silence and obedience from its womenfolk.

As outsiders, both Bethia and Caleb - who meet on the cusp of adolescence - quickly bond and form a lifelong friendship. On the sly, Bethia absorbs the language and the cultures of the Wopanaak tribe while out in the field; at home, she secretly absorbs lessons that are meant for her brother Makepeace.

Eventually, both serendipitously find themselves at Cambridge. Caleb's Harvard education - conducted in the classical languages of Latin, Greek and Hebrew - is funded by rich English patrons as an experiment as to whether "salvages" can be indoctrinated into Christian culture alongside the dismissive colonial elite. Bethia goes along with Caleb and Makepeace as indentured help, striving to remain in close proximity to scholars and avoid her fate as yet another small settlement farm wife.
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Format: Hardcover
I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

I have always felt that Geraldine Brooks is a truly gifted writer but I always have mixed feelings about her books. I really liked YEAR OF WONDERS. I hated MARCH. I loved loved loved PEOPLE OF THE BOOK. So, I approached CALEB'S CROSSING with a little trepidation.

Brooks has a real gift in making history come alive in her fiction. In CALEB'S CROSSING, Brooks fictionalizes the life of first Native American to graduate from Harvard. There is very little in the historical record on Caleb but Brooks manages to flesh out a compelling tale told from the perspective of a young woman named Bethia Mayfield who befriends Caleb and becomes like a sister to him. Using Bethia's point of view was genius as it allowed Brooks to delve into the roles of women in the late 1600's. We see not only Caleb's story but that of a young woman who desires nothing more than to be educated in her own right. Bethia observes as her minister father attempts to convert the Wampanoag while he is ignorant of his daughter's friendship with Caleb and fluency in the native tongue. Caleb becomes a pet project of Bethia's father as the minister tutors him in preparation for entry into Harvard. A year later, Bethia finds herself in Cambridge as an indentured servant where she witnesses the pressures Caleb feels in trying to straddle the gap between his two worlds.

CALEB'S CROSSING is a wonderful book. The juxtaposition between Bethia's experiences and Caleb's makes for a truly compelling story. I'm not sure the story would have been as effective without Bethia's voice. I was completely absorbed by the tale. I think Brooks did an excellent job of demonstrating the pressures put on individuals who were attempting to bridge cultural and societal gaps.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended. A wonderful and moving tale of two people trying to find their place in the world and the toll these actions took on them.
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Format: Hardcover
The best historical fiction takes historical fact and pulls us in by creating interest in characters of the time period. Pulitzer Prize winner Geraldine Brooks is one of the most versatile historical fiction writers of today. Her talent lays in takes a slice of history and creating a world we long to enter. Imaginatively conceived and exquisitely written with compelling characters, Caleb's Crossing will command your attention and demand your respect.

1660. Great Harbor (now Martha's Vineyard), Massachusetts. Bethia Mayfield anticipates the arrival of Caleb, a member of the Wampanoag tribe, to her home for tutoring with her minister father. Unperceived by her family, she and Caleb, who share a love of nature, have learned each other's languages and formed a friendship over the past few years. Her brother and Caleb, the first Native American to do so, enter Cambridge to prepare for studies at Harvard. Bethia feels at a loss when she leaves Martha's Vineyard to become a servant in the headmaster's home. Her love of learning prods her secret vigilance in listening to all the lessons.

Integral elements of the remarkable Caleb's Crossing are joy in learning, unexpected death, heartbreaking starvation, and the ever-present bond between Caleb and Bethia despite all hardship and prejudice against their bond. Knowledge equals power in this unique book. Caleb says, "And since it seems that knowledge is no respecter of boundaries, I will take it wheresoever I can...if necessary, I will go into the dark to get it." Intrigued?

You will find yourself reading in a leisurely fashion to fully savor the evocative prose.
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