About Me

Ithaca, New York
MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

#25: Caleb's Crossing

Caleb's Crossing, by Geraldine Brooks (New York: Viking, 2011)

In her new novel, Caleb's Crossing, Geraldine Brooks once again takes a shard of little-known history and brings it vividly to life. In 1665, a young man from Martha's Vineyard becomes the first Native American graduate of Harvard College. From the few facts that survive of this extraordinary life, Brooks creates a luminous tale of passion and belief, magic and adventure.

"The voice of Caleb's Crossing belongs to Bethia Mayfield, growing up in the tiny island settlement of Great Harbor amid a small band of pioneering English Puritans. Possessed of a restless spirit and a curious mind, Bethia slips the bonds of her rigid society to explore the island's glistening beaches and observe its native inhabitants. At twelve, she meets Caleb, the young son of a chieftain, and the two forge a secret bond that draws each into the alien world of the other.

"Bethia's father is Great Harbor's minister, who feels called to convert the Wampanoag to his own strict Calvinism. He awakens the wrath of the medicine men, against whose magic he must test his faith in a high-stakes battle that may cost his life and his very soul. Caleb becomes a prize in this contest between old ways and new, eventually taking his place at Harvard, studying Latin and Greek alongside the sons of the colonial elite. Bethia also finds herself in Cambridge at the behest of her imperious older brother. As she fights for a voice in a society that requires her silence, she also becomes entangled in Caleb's struggle to navigate the intellectual and cultural shoals that divide their two cultures.

"What becomes of these characters -- the triumphs and turmoil they endure in embracing their new destinies -- is the subject of this riveting and intensely observed novel. Like Brooks's beloved narrator Anna in Year of Wonders, Bethia provides an emotionally irresistible guide to the wilds of Martha's Vineyard and to the intimate spaces of the human heart. The narrative travels from the sparkling harbors of Martha's Vineyard to the mean, drafty dormitories of early Harvard and, as ever, Brooks buttresses her richly imagined fiction with the fascinating and meticulously researched detail that has brought her legions of readers and a Pulitzer Prize."

Opening Lines:
"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."

My Take:
Enjoyed it, but not as much as I did People of the Book or Year of Wonders. This may be in large part because the pre-Colonial/ Colonial/ Revolutionary periods just aren't my favorites where historical fiction is concerned. Part of it, though, was that I was a bit frustrated at not seeing and learning more of Caleb's life firsthand. On one hand, the book's supposed to be about him (at least, so I was led to believe by the jacket), but on the other, Bethia narrates it, and once their closeness wanes, we see only the scraps of his life here and there that she learns about. The quasi-epilogue of an ending was also less than satisfactory, as I didn't feel we'd seen enough of Bethia's life between the end of the main narrative and her old age (and presumably imminent death). Again, still a solid read that I'd recommend, but (in my opinion, anyway) not quite up to the level of the other Brooks novels I've read.

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