Swept Away by Caleb's Crossing

BlogHer Review

I didn’t expect to like Caleb's Crossing. My usual book choices lean towards sci-fi fantasy and thriller novels -- fast paced, escapist fare -- and more literary choices tend to leave me cold. I like to fly through a novel, so anything that is intended to be savored loses my interest. But that was not the case with this book. Right off the bat, despite Geraldine Brooks' use of archaic vocabulary and speech patterns authentic to the historical period, I found myself absorbed and enthralled by her characters and story.

Set in Martha’s Vineyard in the 1660’s, this novel centers around a young girl, Bethia, struggling to find her way through a life that is hard on all people, but especially on women. She longs to read and be allowed to learn alongside her brother, and she finds an outlet for that desire through Caleb, a Native American given the rare opportunity to join the “English” community and study at their best schools. Caleb is an actual historical figure -- he was the first American Indian to graduate from Harvard university, although this telling is entirely a work of fiction.

The story is filled with tragedy and hardship, rife with the automatic prejudice and inequality against both women and Indians in those days. And yet it is not a depressing story. Bethia is such an enlightening character; so forbearing of the trials she faces, that rather than being angered by the obstacles put in her way, I found myself uplifted by her ability to accept life’s trials and move forward.

While this book may not have had the tense thrills and rushing climax of the books I typically read, I nonetheless found myself pulled through to the conclusion. I was swept away by the details of a life so unlike mine, in a place so unfamiliar and yet the foundation of everything I now have. This book showed me so much about how to fight without fighting, find happiness where it seems impossible, and the importance of making your own way within the confines of life’s difficulties and others expectations. And it entertained me as well, which, let’s face it, is the most important thing a book can do.

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