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Showing 1-10 of 646 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 828 reviews
on October 27, 2014
Where are ruthless editors when authors really need them? If the first two hundred pages of this historical novel were cut, there'd be a pretty good story. Unfortunately, it would still be in purposesfully archaic, 17th-century English. It took me a couple of weeks to slog through this 400-page novel. Each time I picked it up, I wished I could just read something by Nathaniel Hawthorne or Herman Melville, instead of contending with Brooks' passion for linguistic imaginings. The characters themselves never took a breath.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon June 18, 2011
I have been aware of Geraldine Brooks for quite a while and kept meaning to read something by her but it just never seemed to happen. When I saw the cover of her latest book, "Caleb's Crossing", I decided that nothing was going to stand in the way of reading it. The cover art is amazing and captured both my attention and imagination. Finding out the book is focused on what is now Martha's Vineyard, I was hooked.

"Caleb's Crossing" takes a tiny sliver of history and an entire novel is created using that as the basis. Caleb is the first Native American to graduate from Harvard and does so in the mid-1660s. How did this come to be? How could a young "savage" manage to be admitted to such an elite school and go on to graduate four years later? How this might have happened is exactly what Geraldine Brooks imagines and writes about so eloquently and beautifully. The narrator of the story is Bethia Mayfield, the daughter of a missionary who has settled on the island with the primary aim of bringing the message of Christ to the heathens. Bethia and Caleb meet by accident while both very young and a secret friendship is formed. This friendship is what makes all the events that unfold possible and their stories are inseparable. Bethia is a very bright young woman who is incredibly frustrated by the limits imposed on her education due to her gender. She is struck by the quick mind of Caleb and finds her equal intellectually plus the benefit of a boy who isn't bound by the English view that girls and women are automatically inferior. They spend time together, sharing their unique knowledge with each other, and form a strong relationship that endures over the years.

A beautifully written narrative that is a history lesson wrapped up in a mesmerizing story. The novel starts out a bit slow at the beginning as all the groundwork is laid, but once it takes off, I didn't want to do anything but sit in my chair and read until I had reached the end. A window into mid-17th century American, the heavily researched book was a lesson in what it was like to live during that time, the religious standards of the period, the role of women (and girls), as well as the early history of Harvard. There is a lot of historical content here that is the foundation upon which a fabulous story is told.

Note: The one thing that surprised me is that the story is really more that of Bethia with Caleb playing a major, but supporting, role. This is really her story more than his. Not a problem for me since I enjoyed the book immensely, but just wasn't what I was expecting based upon the product description or dust jacket.

Bottom line: incredible book that fans of historical fiction will find to be a "must read".
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on January 8, 2017
In the 1600's life in the MA colony was not for the faint of heart. This book centers around Bethia who we meet as a young girl. She is smart in fact smarter than her brother and her father knows it and he counsels her that she is smart enough because soon she will be married and she will have to allow her husband to make all decisions. Bethia becomes friends with a young man who is the 1st native American to graduate from Harvard (historical fact). The book is sad due to how hard life was in those days, so many of the characters die young along with the treatment of the native Americans. At the end the author provides her sources while she was researching the book which makes for an interesting read.
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on April 9, 2015
Geraldine Brooks can write! Caleb's Crossing is the most beautifully crafted and well-researched book I've come across in a long time! This novel is my book club's upcoming selection. I can't wait to see where the discussion will lead, but I'm surmising that every member will have high praise for the novel. Set in 17th Century America, the plot deals with the impact of the English culture on the indigenous tribes--with adjustments impacting both. With exquisite prose, interesting characters, and much research, the author details life in the rugged New England setting. Brooks reveals the value placed on the Christian mission and education by the English settlers, despite the very different opportunities for intellectual growth between men and women, and in contrast to the beliefs of the Native people. Then the book moves to the respected traditions of Harvard University from its founding (and funding!), despite its setting in "foul-smelling" Cambridge. The plot is narrated by an observant, self-taught, brave, and broad-minded woman who is looking back over her life. Perhaps Caleb's "crossing" is that of water, or from tribal royalty to Harvard, or between Native and Christian religions. Or perhaps the crossings are not Caleb's but rather those of the narrator, Brooks includes them all.
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on June 13, 2016
Geraldine Brooks is one of my favorite authors. She has a beautiful writing style and has the gift of being able to transport the reader to the time and place of her choosing without it feeling at all forced. This story is heartbreaking, inspiring, and beautiful. It should be required reading for every high school student because it deals with so many important issues that shaped our nation's history. I have to admit I particularly love a story about a strong woman, and this is one of the best I've read. It is really about Caleb, but Bethia's voice is such a perfect lens to see his story, and her story (although the entirely fictional one of the two), is just as important and inspiring. I loved this book and can't believe it's taken me this long to read it!
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on December 15, 2016
This is an excellent book for its story line and presentation of historically based fiction. Admittedly it took me a while to warm to it, but in the end I loved Bethia's voice, character and especially her courage. This book provides a glimpse of early American living, the travails of women that persist too greatly to this day, the tensions and interactions of colonists and Native Americans, the well meaning but harmful impact of missionaries which also persist to this day. Many themes were well but gently covered in so short a book. As with all great books, I wish it could have continued well past the ending. I am a G Brooks convert.
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VINE VOICEon January 2, 2012
I unexpectedly found Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks when I was looking for a different book I had downloaded onto my husband's Kindle. I started reading it out of curiosity and ended up completing it in a couple of days, charmed by the story of Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk, a young Wampanoag Indian from Martha's Vineyard, who in 1665 was the first Native American to graduate from Harvard.

The title of the book refers to Caleb's transition from "salvage" into the world of Christian men. Brooks makes up a female character, Bethia Mayfield, daughter to a minister on the island, to serve as the voice for the story. Young Bethia, who chafes at the role imposed upon her by the Calvinist religion, meets Caleb while wandering across the island when they are both about ten years old. For several years they maintain their friendship in secret, until Caleb is taken into Bethia's family's home so that her father might educate him in preparation for entry into Harvard.

While the book is nominally about the crossing of Caleb into the white man's world, it seems to be more about Bethia's viewpoint of the juxtaposition between the Puritan world and the much more naturalistic world of the Wampanoag tribe. It is in her friendship with Caleb that she is able to find true respect for her intelligence, learning and knowledge-- knowledge and intelligence she has to keep hidden from her own family, because it is improper for a woman.

Bethia's voice and attitude seem appropriate for the era-- there is little emotion displayed throughout even as her family endures one tragedy after another, and she is sold into indentured servitude to pay for her brother and Caleb's tuition into prep school and then into Harvard. She does demonstrate some pique at being forced into servitude to pay for her brother's education when she is so much more intelligent than he, but overall she accepts it as she is reluctant to concede to the alternative, marriage to a local farmer. She is hopeful that she will at least be able to overhear some illuminating discussions that will further her own education. Once she and Caleb leave the island, however, the book loses something. The story becomes less about Caleb and more about Bethia's continuous striving for education and her feelings for her future husband, an instructor at Harvard who is not put off by her hunger for learning.

And that is perhaps the problem-- once Bethia and Caleb part ways, there just isn't much more to say about their story. While the book purports to be about Caleb and his transition to the white man's world, it is more about Bethia and her fight to educate herself in a world in which women are not allowed to express or explore their intelligence. As another reviewer noted, the reader never really gets to see how Caleb feels about anything. We know he makes his "crossing" because he wants to help his people, but beyond that, we know little about how he really feels. What did he think of the hypocrisy of his new world, about the unfairness of the demand that he give up his own religious traditions in order to become a part of the white world, and about the fact that even though he graduated from Harvard, he was never really accepted into the white society?

Likewise we never really learn much about how he and Bethia feel about each other. We know they have a strong bond of friendship, that they are drawn to each other as children and that he accepts her in a way that none of the other men in her life ever do. Bethia's narrative pulls no punches in relating the less savory aspects of colonial life, nor does she shy from voicing thoughts that, were they spoken aloud, would send her into exile. She even mentions her physical attraction to her fiance at one point, so why does she not ever mention even a hint of any sort of attraction for Caleb? Is it that the thought of it is so outside the realm of possibility in her world that she can't even conceive of it? Perhaps- but her brother certainly thinks of it so it can't have been completely inconceivable.

Whatever the reason, I would much rather Brooks had ended the book once Caleb graduated from Harvard because there just didn't seem to be any point to the story after that. Up to that point, however, I was completely immersed in Bethia's world and found the book hard to put down.
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on July 13, 2014
Intelligent, stylistically brilliant, fascinating study of my native soil in and around Cambridge, Mass in the mid-17th century. Brooks is an amazing writer. Her ability to immerse herself and the reader in the language and culture of another era has been proven again. So what's missing this time? I found the plot a little plodding. There seemed to be no dramatic impulse forward in the central part of the narrative, when the main characters finally get to Harvard. I actually found the discussions of the courses of study and methods of teaching and learning extremely interesting. So that was not the problem. Caleb was a fascinating character and I wish there had been more of him in the novel. We saw him second-hand, through Bethia's eyes and it wasn't enough for me. In the early days, their relationship as children and fellow secret scholars had a vibrancy that got lost as they grew. I haven't mentioned the many themes: early feminist tendencies, racism, colonial life, excellent use of Native language, etc., etc, etc. All of it great, but at its heart, for me, most of the book lacked just that --heart, until the end. The title is explained and Bethia wraps up her journal in a moving and convincing way. In the end, I wish Brooks had given us a serious non-fiction look at the subject and skipped the imagined story line.
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VINE VOICEon May 22, 2012
I did not read "Caleb's Crossing" when it was first published, so I am obviously late to the party, but I have to say that I stand with those who love this brilliant novel of 17th century colonial American life. Yes, I will agree that perhaps it could have been entitled "Bethia's Crossing," as she, rather than Caleb, was the narrator and the primary focus of the book, but that in no way diminished the novel in my eyes. It is not possible in my opinion to understand what transpired with Caleb without understanding the Puritan culture with its constant emphasis on salvation and damnation. Bethia fills the role of narrator who explains the social, religious, and political landscape to Caleb, who is truly a stranger in a strange land, even though it is the land of his birth as well as Bethia's. We too are strangers to that landscape, and Bethia makes a good Virgil to our Dante, even if she, too, has sometimes lost her way.

Brooks did an outstanding job of recreating a young woman who fit into the culture of her times with a twist. Bethia was in the tradition of two off-stage women (Ann Hutchinson and Ann Bradstreet) who were religious, but also strong-minded and non-conforming to the standards of the day that made women meek & silent helpmates to the men of their family. She is also an echo of another real woman, Elizabeth Winthrop, niece of Governor John Winthrop, who was the subject of an historical novel written in the 1950's by Anya Seton ("The Winthrop Woman"), a woman who defied authority and became an exile. Bethia's thirst is primarily for knowledge, and she has the burden of knowing that in the eyes of many her need for an education is evidence of her soul's probable damnation. That she has a pagan side to her character is well-hidden from her family and the community, although her brother (jealous of her superior mind) suspects this carries over to her feelings toward Caleb.

As to Caleb, he is a member of the local Indian tribe that inhabits the island where Bethia and her family live. He becomes acquainted with Bethia when she is 12 and he is only slightly older. Their friendship is a secret from all, and when Caleb is befriended by Bethia's father the two must pretend to be strangers to each other. Eventually Caleb and and his friend Joel, the latter being what is called a praying Indian because he has converted to Christianity, are sent across to the mainland for an education at Harvard. Add to this Bethia's feelings about marriage, her guilt over deaths in the family (which she assumes are her fault due to her disobedience to her religion), and her on-going conflict with her brother, and you have a rich and satisfying literary work. As usual, Ms Brooks writes beautifully, especially in her depictions of nature, but by including some vocabulary of the period, and attempting to observe some of the grammatical conventions of the time, she was bashed by some readers. I found this added additional realism to the book and did not think it was over-done -- it was just right for me, and I found myself thinking that if time travel were possible, I believe that someone from the 17th century would find this book somewhat familiar.

I bought the Kindle version of "Caleb's Crossing," and for the most part found it free of errors. Unfortunately the Kindle version did not include the attractive cover of the print edition, but just the title page.
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on November 24, 2014
A member of our book club recommended this book, and it did not disappoint! Bethia, a missionary pastor's daughter, loves to roam the small island she and her family reside on in 1660. Her father seeks to make Christians of the local "salvages", the Wampanoag Indians, while Bethia, a quick learner, seeks to secretly obtain the education her brother Makepeace is getting. During a horseback ride to the ocean, Bethia meets Caleb, a young Wampanoag boy. They become friends, teaching each other what they know best - Caleb teaches her his language and the natural ways of his people; she teaches him English and how to read. Bethia's journals follow their separate lives and their relationship as the two grow, mature, and change.

I loved the book. Brooks skillfully brings the era to life with sharply drawn characters with their unique expectations and aspirations. In this memorable novel, she has taken a real historical figure about whom very little is known and populated his life with both real and fictional characters and events.
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