The Triumph and Tragedy in Caleb's Crossing
When I first sat down to read Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks, I was prepared to read a well written novel, one that was exquisitely researched and crafted. What I encountered was lyrical language, evocative imagery and a story that has lingered in my mind for days.
Caleb’s Crossing is the tale of Bethia Mayfield, a Puritan daughter who chafes under the tenets of 1600’s Massachusetts and Caleb, a native youth struggling with a clash of cultures and a changing environment. Both who have little control over their own lives and are trying to find the paths that suit them best.
As a modern American woman, it’s very difficult to comprehend what it would be living in such a climate but through Bethia, feeling her resentment as her father blithely talks of marrying her off to a local farmer when she comes of age, a glimpse of the frustration and futility comes through.
Throughout Caleb’s Crossing, Bethia exerts her will in small and secret ways. The most dangerous is the secret friendship that builds with Cheeshahteaumauk, the Native boy who becomes Caleb. Bethia's minister father is struggling to convert his tribe to the word of God. Under cover of chores and seeking food, Bethia and Caleb meet to talk and explore their surroundings. They bond and learn much from one another. As Bethia learns that her friend is meant to become pawaaw, which her father and the church see as wizards, shamans that speak through the devil, she endeavors to bring Caleb back from the brink of damnation.
After an outbreak of smallpox practically decimates Caleb’s tribe, he turns to learn the ways of the white man. Bethia’s father takes on the task of guiding Caleb into a life of Christ as a Puritan and begins to educate him, alongside Bethia’s brother Makepeace and another native youth, Joel.
The truth of Caleb’s Crossing is the parallel struggles of Caleb and Bethia, both straddling worlds, being educated as god fearing people, all the while being subjugated as different and not worthy.
There is so much life and struggle, triumph and tragedy packed into just over 300 pages.
I very much enjoyed this book. I read it straight through in two days because I didn’t want to put it down and then I went back and read it again. Every so often a book reaches out and envelopes you in such a way that you can see, taste and smell the story. This is one of those books.