My rating: 5 of 5 stars
1660, the island we now call Martha’s Vineyard. Bethia Mayfield is the daughter of a respected Puritan minister who, disagreeing with the governance of the Massachusetts Bay Company, starts his own community on the island. As Caleb’s Crossing opens, Bethia is struggling against the restrictions her society places on females. Her father has given her some education, but she wants more. On one of her solitary walks, Bethia meets a young Wampanoag, Cheeshahteaumauck, and even though their friendship would be forbidden, they teach each other their respective languages. Bethia calls him Caleb, and eventually, with Bethia’s help, he will go on to become the first Native American graduate of Harvard college. Bethia and Caleb both want power, she the power to use the gift of her formidable intelligence, and he to be able to help his people. Together they encounter daunting obstacles, and each will attain a portion of what they desire.
Geraldine Brooks has written the consummate historical novel. Her characters are compelling, their language and belief systems true to their time. The great issues of racism, religious barriers, and genocide share the pages with the personal issues of courage, integrity, and commitment. Self-actualization is nothing new, although Bethia would not know the meaning of that word. There are joyous victories and crushing losses within these pages, and Brooks is so skilled as to cause her readers celebrate and suffer with her memorable characters.
Caleb’s Crossing is slow to get started, and it takes a few chapters to grow comfortable with the archaic speech patterns. But perseverance is more than amply rewarded. This book is a gem.