Caleb's Crossing - A Book Review
"I forgot he was a half-naked, sassafras-scented heathen anointed with raccoon grease. He was, quite simply, my best friend."
This is how Bethia's story begins, by meeting Caleb. Only Caleb is the Christian name she gave him, not the one his own people had given him. The met on the shores of what is now Martha's Vineyard as children in 1658.
I truly wasn't sure what I would think about a book whose premise is the story of the first American Indian to graduate from Harvard College. I thought Caleb's Crossing would perhaps be a tedious read, but I was happily very wrong. There is so much more depth and story to be told. Geraldine Brooks' story is told through the eyes of Bethia Mayfield, a daughter of an English minister come to the new world to save those whom he can, including the "heathen" Indians. The laws of the time are very strict and exclude women from almost all higher learning. Bethia has a quick mind and longs to learn what her brother finds difficult. She spends her days cleaning and tending to the house, all the while absorbing the lessons meant for her brother. This is how she learns to speak the language of the local Indian band that her father is attempting to convert to Christianity. It is with this knowledge that she is able to converse with the boy, Caleb, secretly, as it would be improper for them to be alone.
As Bethia and Caleb become older, their paths seem to align as he is sent to college with Bethia's brother. Bethia is turned over to the boys' school as a servant and she is able to watch the progress of her friend as he works against severe treatment to earn the education the other boys are receiving. She also is able to better her own mind working in close proximity to the scholars.
Caleb's story is one of trial, hardship, love, and strength as recounted through Bethia. I fell in love with their island and their enduring kinship. Brooks writes beautifully and I felt as though I was in every scene with the characters, descriptive without making me want to jump ahead to the action. I have to admit I cried more than once in the course of reading this book, I won't give any spoilers, but there are some very tear-jerking moments. The language matches the language of the late 1600's, so for some it may be hard to get used to and may turn them off all together, but I found it gave the book a very delicious authenticity.
Caleb's Crossing was absorbing and difficult to put down. I enjoyed this book enough to find another Geraldine Brooks novel for my next read!