Monday, June 13, 2011

Caleb's Crossing

by Geraldine Brooks

Brooks is a masterful storyteller providing great detail to the times and peoples she is portraying. Caleb's Crossing relates the life and trials of Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk, the first American Indian to receive a degree from Harvard, but also manages to delve into a variety of other religious, cultural and ethical dilemmas faced by early American settlers and Native Americans.

Caleb's story is told through the eyes of Bethia Mayfield, a fictionalized character who ultimately steals the show. Bethia is an adventurous and curious young woman with a natural propensity for learning, yet her Puritan culture shuns the education of women. These two characters form an unlikely friendship and manage to secure an education for themselves despite their prejudicial and stifling cultures.

One of the aspects of the story I really liked was the thoroughness in describing both the Puritan and the Indian perspectives on relationships, family, death and God. Brooks does not shy away from boldly verbalizing these positions through her characters. I also appreciate historical accuracy in speech and details and Brooks shows she has done her homework. Her epilogue indicates the scant amount of information available on Caleb yet she manages to create a probable narrative of his life, surrounding him with other characters loosely based on people mentioned in his brief history.

I like the writing style of Ms. Brooks and realize I have read another of her books, which I liked equally, Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague. I am counting this book to qualify for the challenge of a book with movement in the title.

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