Reader Review by cloggie-downunder
Caleb’s Crossing is the fourth novel by Geraldine Brooks. As with her other novels, fiction is built on fact. In this case the fact is the life of Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk, the young son of a Wampanoag chieftain, who, in 1665, was the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College. The story is narrated by Bethia Mayfield, the daughter of a Calvinist minister living on the island of Noepe (Martha’s Vineyard), and begins when twelve-year-old Bethia meets Caleb whilst she is out gathering clams. Bethia’s diary paints a vivid picture of life in an English Puritan settlement in the 17th century, and the effects on both cultures of interaction with the Native population. As events unfold, we watch Bethia, in her innocence and ignorance, using faulty logic, come to incorrect conclusions and thus suffers unwarranted guilt. As Bethia grows and matures, so does her narrative voice. The struggle between the English ministers and the Native medicine men for the acceptance of their beliefs amongst the native population is well portrayed. Caleb’s stubborn uncle, medicine man Tequamuk, seems remarkably prescient on the subject of the future of Native Americans.
Each time I pick up a book, fiction or non-fiction, by Geraldine Brooks, I look at the description on the jacket and wonder if I am going to like this one. By now, I should have learned that, no matter the subject matter, this author does not disappoint her readers. The depth of her research stands out. Her characters are always well developed, the dialogue is authentic, and she manages to convey the mood and atmosphere perfectly. Brooks manages to squeeze a wealth of facts into an easily-digestible package. I laughed and cried. I especially loved Caleb’s explanation and opinions on the native and English gods. I enjoyed this novel more than I expected to. It was engrossing and enlightening. The afterword was especially interesting. Once again, Brooks gives us a wonderful read.