Friday, October 12, 2012

Caleb's Crossing

by Geraldine Brooks
New York : Viking, 2011.

Bethia Mayfield is the daughter of the preacher on Martha's Vineyard, a man who sees it as his life's work to preach the gospel to the Indians. On one of Bethia's rambles in the wilderness of this land, she encounters a young Wampanoag, whom she renames Caleb, a young man whose friendship she treasures, but would never be sanctioned in the 1660s.

I have read other novels by Geraldine Brooks, but never have I been so enthralled with them as I was with Caleb's Crossing. Bethia, our narrator, is a young woman with a keen mind and thirst for knowledge but also devout and not unbelievably modern in her thinking. Caleb was based on a real person, one of the first Wampanoag men to matriculate at Harvard. As in the best historical fiction, time and place - in both Martha's Vineyard and Cambridge - are evocative and realistic with historical details naturally adding to the narrative, showing Brooks' research with a light touch. I now want to follow up with some of the sources mentioned in the afterword to learn more about the time period. In addition to this, Brooks delicately touches on the themes of religion and prejudice without sounding preachy or anachronistic. Truly superb historical fiction.

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