Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks
Just finished reading Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks which tells us the story of Caleb and Bethia. Caleb is a native American from the Island of Martha’s Vineyard and Bethia the daugher of a Minister to a flock of early Puritan settlers.
Although this novel is described as telling the story of Caleb, one of the first Native American’s to attend and graduate from Harvard College in 1666 it centres mainly on Bethia who tells her tale, a part of which is the forbidden friendship that grows between herself and Caleb after a chance when she is out looking for clams.
I enjoy the writing of Geraldine Brooks, she manages to take a subject and with a few brief facts from a certain historical period, weave a story rich with detail. Clearly she must undertake extensive research as her novels always seem to vividly recreate the time and the people from whatever era she is writing about and more to the point she makes you care about her characters. She also seems to take a story that more often than not I begin by thinking I won’t enjoy but then manages to convince me that I will.
Once again this is a wonderful historical novel. It manages to portray the struggles of both characters very well. It depicts the struggles that women of that era faced and it depicts the prejudices faced by the native Americans. We see Bethia change from a young and relatively carefree young girl who has the opportunity to explore the island (whilst under the guise of gathering food for the family) to become an intelligent young woman who has to hide her wit. We also see Caleb develop into a young man of strong will and commitment. Torn between his own tribe and family and his desire to prove himself. The early friendship the two developed as youngsters continues throughout the novel with the two lending each other support in times of need. And support is surely needed for the trials the two of them will go through.
I enjoyed this book although will admit not as much as the two novels I’ve read previously. Don’t misunderstand me, I think the writing is wonderful and the voice of Bethia is compelling but for me personally it lacked something to make it totally absorbing and I can’t quite put my finger on what the missing ingredient is. I enjoyed the first half of the book where we meet Bethia and Caleb and watch them carry out their strange and secret relationship – however, I thought the story really started to come into it’s own as Bethia’s struggles increased. She suffered hardship and loss followed by indenture and prejudice to the extent that I was quite exasperated! But it was intriguing to read about. Caleb at this point however seemed to fade into the background and we lost quite a bit of his story – he became more of a peripheral character just occasionally popping into the story to help carry a particular element of the plot. I thought that was a bit of a shame but as the story is told by Bethia I guess it was inevitable. So, I didn’t love this, but, I thought it was a well written and interesting read. Would I recommend it – yes. As an historical novel it really is a great book but I think personally Year or Wonders and People of the Book stand out more in my mind.
In terms of criticism – it felt like the book came to a very abrupt ending. One moment I was reading Bethia’s reflections. The next moment I started the following chapter and Bethia was dying, of old age! For one moment I thought I’d skipped some pages and had to backtrack to see what was going on. Having said that I must give credit where it’s due. I suppose it would have been a very long story to hear of Bethias complete life story and I guess what we were being given was a snapshot in time to demonstrate the effect that the two had on each other’s lives. We were then left to reflect on whether their frienship had helped or hindered them.
On the whole a very enjoyable historical novel which I’m glad to have read and would certainly recommend.