“Caleb’s Crossing” by Geraldine Brooks FIC BROO (also LARGE PRINT, PLAYAWAY)
“Caleb’s Crossing” is based on the true story of the son of a Wampanoag chieftain in 1660s Massachusetts who became the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College. So if you like historical fiction, this would suit you well. The first-person narrator is Bethia Mayfield, daughter of a Calvinist minister. She and Caleb meet when they are 12 and become lifelong friends. Life is hard in Puritan New England, however, and the colonists are bringing rapid and extensive (often devastating) changes to the lives of the native population. Caleb is one of those curious and intelligent individuals who tries to act as a bridge between the two cultures to the benefit of both. Bethia is also quite curious and intelligent. Being a woman, though, she has to learn the hard way to keep silent most of the time.
The dialogue between Caleb and Bethia is delightfully thought-provoking as they question each other’s way of life from farming and hunting to medicine and spirituality. And I do appreciate the various possibilities for the meaning of “crossing” in the title.
Some critics have thought Bethia is too much of a feminist and too modern in tone, but the author stated in an interview that she can prove that women like Bethia did exist by citing the transcripts of court records. Most women did not learn to write and so there are few diaries or letters written by women from that period. Court transcripts were one of the few places where women actually had a written voice–and it was often a feisty one. Quiet women did not end up in court. Women accused of being witches and scolds did.
It was a great pleasure to attend Geraldine Brooks’s presentation last fall as part of the QC Women’s Connection International Women Authors series. One of the things I remember particularly is her saying she doesn’t believe in writer’s block because though “writing may aspire to be art, it starts out as craft.” Other professions–she suggested hairdressers or proctologists–don’t have blocks. “Words are stones–the book is the wall.” Every day before she begins writing, she takes a poetry anthology and lets it fall open. She reads that poem and that “primes her pump”.
Other historical novels by Brooks you might like are “March” about the father of Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women” during the Civil War; “Year of Wonders” about a village in England which quarantines itself in the Plague year of 1666; or “People of the Book” about an ancient Jewish tome and all its owners through the years until modern times. For more suggestions, check our online database NoveList Plus or ask at the Information Desk for our staff-created bibliography “If You Like Geraldine Brooks”.