Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks
By bostonbibliophile on April 18, 2011
Geraldine Brooks' new novel Caleb's Crossing is a detailed fictionalization of the story of Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck, the first Native American to graduate from Harvard as told through the eyes of his (fictional) neighbor and friend Bethia. The story centers on Bethia and follows Caleb's journey through her eyes. Bethia is a smart young woman who befriends Caleb on the island of Martha's Vineyard and through various contrivances of plot, she shadows him through his career in Cambridge. Her own path is difficult; indentured to pay for her brother's education and almost forced into a marriage she doesn't want, she bristles at authority and does her best to take care of herself when it seems no one else will care for her.
Brooks provides a lot of interesting historical background on 17th century New England. Brooks clearly did her research to write this book, and it's an interesting if not entirely page-turning narrative. I thought Caleb's character was not well-defined beyond his being sort of blandly wise and good; Bethia was an interesting person but she also seemed to be a little by-the-numbers. She includes an author's note at the end about the real Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck with what little is actually known about him and his circumstances, which I appreciated.
Overall I have to say I was disappointed with this novel, somewhat bland after the wonder that was People of the Book. This book has none of the magic that made her last so special; it struck me as a pretty ordinary if well-executed historical-fiction piece. I'm sure the book will be very popular among Brooks' fans but I think her brand of light-ish historical fiction didn't really work for me this time.
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