Caleb's Crossing - A Journey Worth Taking?
How do our choices affect those around us, especially when those choices reflect the divide between the truth found in our heads with the one being discovered in our hearts? Geraldine Brooks' powerful Caleb's Crossing asks that question through the intelligent, honest mind of her narrator, Bethia Mayfield.
Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck was the first Wampanoag to receive a degree from Harvard University, but that fact is only one of the threads Brooks uses to weave his story with that of the fictional Bethia, his sister in spirit if not blood. Vivid imagery, geographical details, historical prejudices, Puritanical teachings, and the universal question of how to find our path in life are woven together seamlessly to create this tragic, yet beautiful tale set in seventeenth century Martha’s Vineyard.
Historical fiction is not usually my first choice of genre. However, I am drawn to compelling characters and stories that give me an opportunity to reflect on the choices I am making in my own life. Caleb’s Crossing is exactly that sort of book.
I was surprised at how easily I fell into the rhythm of Bethia’s speech patterns and thought processes; she is a forthright narrator, allowing the reader access to her feelings and thoughts, even when she is troubled by them. She struggles to reconcile her ingrained beliefs about her world and her God, taught by her sympathetic but unwavering minister father, with what she learns about the Wampanoag views of nature and godliness from her secret friend Caleb, and with what she grows to know is right in her mind and heart.
My own heart ached for this intelligent, questioning girl as she searches for the right path, often alone -- a self-educated girl in a time when girls were not permitted entrance to learned society.
Despite the title, the story is as much about Bethia’s journey as Caleb’s; he straddles the Wampanoag and Christian worlds as Bethia attempts to find her place in her gender-oppressed Puritanical society. Duality abounds in Geraldine Brooks' captivating novel: Christianity and paganism, sin and virtue, education and ignorance, the family into which we are born and the family we choose. These struggles, combined with the intriguing characters and the actions they take, make Caleb's Crossing a book I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend.