Geraldine Brooks – Book Review

Geraldine Brooks has done it again. Caleb’s Crossing 2011
(I highly recommend ALL of her other books; this one is perhaps most reminiscent of A Year of Wonder. She won the Pulitzer for March (the absent father in Little Women) and her latest was People of the Book. Her nonfiction is also equally stunning: see especially Nine Parts Desire – hugely informative).

Caleb’s Crossing is a brilliant book. Several people immediately came to mind to tell that this is the next book you must/need to read and – there is much to discuss, similar to our Sparrow book review. But this is much less immediately harrowing, although there are still nightmares.

This is 1600s Martha Vineyard, about the first Native American Graduate of Harvard. With a few facts and a single document, Brooks weaves an absorbing story of his tragic but eventful, prophetic life. There are many crossings in this book (intellectual, cultural, social), not least your own. The story unfolds from 1660 onwards through the eyes of Bethia Mayfield, daughter of a Puritan Minister, struggling within the confines of a harsh colonial life and religious dictates. Her friendship with Caleb Cheeshahteamauk, of the Wopanaak tribe, leads both to ‘cross’ cultures.

I particularly loved the perspective from different time periods of Bethia’s life. Her courage, her resiliance, her audacity, her commitment, her desires, and her deep understanding make her unforgettable. And she is the fictional person! The research and authorship are exceptional, what I have come to expect from Brook’s work.Incredible history, amazing philosophy, breathtaking rich detail, thought provoking, poignant and timely. Her writing is so engaging, original, and well crafted; this is literature at its best- lyrical and poetic with memories. Brooks often telling haunting stories, which through gripping characters force you to experience their histories which are ultimately our own. Those connections in this story resonate with my Yankee upbringing as well as the desire and denial for knowledge, simply because you are female. The puritanical society that uses religion to assert dominance feels way too close after 350 years.

You also feel Brook’s presence on Martha’s Vineyard as well. There are wonderful nature descriptions and a serene sense of place. The first half of the book takes place here, with the latter in and around a Harvard  you will barely recognize. She writes “I presumed to give Caleb’s name to my imagined character in the hope of honoring the struggle, sacrifice and achievement of this remarkable scholar.”

Jane Smiley said “It is a story that is tragically recognizable and deeply sad….enlightening and involving…”

AND We have a Rochester connection here too in that it appears her husband’s father (Horwitz) was from Rochester!  Tony Horwitz, the son and another amazing historical author,  will be our Rochester Reads Author in 2012. I find this INCREDIBLY exciting as I have read all of his books, given away across four continents both his Blue Latitudes and his Voyage Long and Strange.

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