Geraldine Brooks is a great writer, and her new novel “Caleb’s Crossing” is no exception to that fact. “Caleb’s Crossing” tells the story of the first Wampanoag Native American from Martha’s Vineyard to attend and graduate from Harvard University – in the 1600’s. Caleb’s story is told through the eyes of Bethia Mayfield, his childhood friend and his sponsor’s daughter. Brooks does an excellent job recreating the essence of the mid-1600’s in New England, including her use of Puritan speech. Her depictions of Martha’s Vineyard, where Bethia’s family has lived as her father and grandfather were ministers there, paints a pristine and wild landscape.
I just loved this book. The character descriptions and changes, the settings, the secondary characters — all of it combined to create a compelling story, and one that is based in fact. While the ending is sad – it is accurate, and it makes one question once again the cost to the Native Americans as their culture was forced out by the incoming Europeans. Caleb is taken from his life with his people and becomes a Harvard scholar – though always secondary to the “high class” Puritan boys. Though Caleb and his fellow tribal companion Joel are the top scholars in their class, they are held at arm’s length by all who deal with them, with the exception of Bethia, who loves both boys as brothers.
Brooks captures the time and place of this story so movingly, you will not forget it.
Also, there is a poignant note in the afterword: while Caleb was the first Wampanoag from Martha’s Vineyard to graduate as an undergraduate from Harvard, the next – a young woman – is due to graduate from Harvard’s undergrad program this June.
I got my copy from the library.