My rating: 4 of 5 stars
In 1665, Caleb Cheeshah-teaumuck was the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College. Here, Pulitzer Prize winner Brooks imagines that Caleb was befriended by Bethia Mayfield, whose minister father wants to convert the neighboring Wampanoag and makes educating Caleb one of his goals. Bethia, herself desperate for book learning, ends up as an indentured servant in Cambridge, watching Caleb bridge two cultures.
I'm definitely a fan of historical fiction and this time period -- America in the 1600's is especially interesting to me. "Caleb's Crossing" is more about the female narrator, Bethia, than about Caleb. Having read "Tale of Wonders," I could hear the similarities between Bethia and Anna, narrator of that work. As I was reading, I just naturally fell in love with Bethia and admired her ambition and her love of learning and her desire to prove that women were just as capable of great thought as men. Her friendship with Caleb was so dear and so sad. The spark that Bethia ignited in him to begin his journey through the educational wilds of English schooling was exciting. The fact that that journey virtually destroyed him was quite sad. For most of the book, I thought thst Bethia would end up with Caleb because she loved him so, but she truly did love him as a brother. At the end of the book, I asked myself this question, "What benefit was gained to try to impress English ways of speech and literature on this native American?" He did show his prowess and his genius in his efforts, but living among the English/Americans caused him to lose the health and strength he once had. If I wasn't an optimistic person, this book would have depressed me. There were so many deaths of characters that became so beloved and even those that you didn't even get to know. So many deaths. Is that what life was like in the 1600's? Could have been, I guess. Don't forget to read the Afterword. It explains a lot. I truly liked this book, even though so many people died. I liked experiencing things from Bethia's perspective. As in "Year of Wonders," as I read I felt I WAS her. In my opinion, that is one sign of a great author. And Geraldine Brooks is a great author, in my opinion.
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