Caleb's Crossing - The Courage to Try a New Way
By WritingJoy on April 12, 2011
I have always enjoyed stories that bring history to life, that put me in the stench of town life without plumbing, over a wood fire in a dark kitchen, huddled on a dirt floor under a quilt I made myself. When the story explores the efforts of brave women who dared to break outside the narrow lives forged by patriarchy, all the better. Caleb's Crossing, by Geraldine Brooks, delivered all the above.
The story is set in 1660 on an island off the coast of Massachusetts (now Martha’s Vineyard). One of the first things I noticed was the style of English. The book is in the voice of Bethia Mayfield, daughter of an English minister and missionary to the natives of the island. She was a rare woman who learned to read and write, so the book is her journal of the events following the day she met Cheeshahteaumauk, or Caleb he came to be called among the English in their community.
I was hooked by the second page, captivated by her description of her mother as an example of womanhood in the late 17th century. “She was like a butterfly, full of color and vibrancy when she chose to open her wings, yet hardly visible when she closed them.” Then, one page later, my heart broke when she wrote that her sins before God had killed her mother.
I also immediately began to wonder if this was one of those scathing portrayals of over-zealous Christians (many of which are justified). I never enjoy books that seem to relish in exposing the hypocrisy and cruelty of the religious. I was relieved to see that Caleb’s Crossing addresses the abuses and mistreatment of the native Americans by Christians (and the not-so-Christians) of the time honestly and without sensationalism. The story is inhabited by flawed but genuine, well-meaning characters. These were people like myself, people I could root for.
One final word – the style of the book is quite different from our modern way of writing and speaking English. Geraldine gives Bethia a distinctly 1600s voice, with the vocabulary and sentence structure to match. If you don’t enjoy reading books with unfamiliar words and usage, you may not enjoy this book.
I enjoyed every page of Caleb’s Crossing, and look forward to reading more from Geraldine Brooks.
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