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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Caleb's Crossing

One of the very best parts about our little vacation was the chance to read, uninterrupted.  I started this book on the plane ride there and finished it about 1/2 hour before we landed at home.  I ordered this book a month or two ago and have been so anxious for a chance to read it.  One of my top 10 favorite books of all time is Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks and when I read the synopsis of this book I knew I had to have it.  Brooks generally weaves fiction with history and has very strong characters.  I was captivated by this book from the very beginning, it lived up to all my expectations.

Amazon Best Books of the Month, May 2011: When Pulitzer Prize winner Geraldine Brooks came to live on Martha's Vineyard in 2006, she ran across a map by the island's native Wampanoag people that marked the birthplace of Caleb, first Native American to graduate of Harvard College--in 1665. Her curiosity piqued, she unearthed and fleshed out his thin history, immersing herself in the records of his tribe, of the white families that settled the island in the 1640s, and 17th-century Harvard. In Caleb's Crossing, Brooks offers a compelling answer to the riddle of how--in an era that considered him an intellectually impaired savage--he left the island to compete with the sons of the Puritanical elite. She relates his story through the impassioned voice of the daughter of the island's Calvinist minister, a brilliant young woman who aches for the education her father wastes on her dull brother. Bethia Mayfield meets Caleb at twelve, and their mutual affinity for nature and knowledge evolves into a clandestine, lifelong bond. Bethia's father soon realizes Caleb's genius for letters and prepares him for study at Harvard, while Bethia travels to Cambridge under much less auspicious circumstances. This window on early academia fascinates, but the book breathes most thrillingly in the island's salt-stung air, and in the end, its questions of the power and cost of knowledge resound most profoundly not in Harvard's halls, but in the fire of a Wampanoag medicine man. --Mari Malcolm --

I really liked everything about this book.  The historical part of it was fascinating...although I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have survived as a puritan in early New England.  The characters were based on actual historical figures as well as composites, but they felt completely real.  I felt like the paths Bethia and Caleb both took were believable and I found myself really rooting for both of them.  I usually care more about the story than the language, but there were some lines that were so beautiful, even I was impressed.  A few of my favorites:

"This I do know, for the surfeit of loss in my life has convinced me it will be easier to be grieved for than to grieve"

"I burned to know what he would know when he entered that spirit world.  I recalled too well, the alien power I had felt that long ago day and night on the cliffs.  I have said that I would write only the truth here, and the truth is this: I, Bethia Mayfield, envied this salvage his idolatrous adventure."

"They seemed to run entirely wild, with no check or correction.....I remarked on this to father.  he nodded.  They are, as you say, remarkably indulgent.  I have remonstrated with them on the matter, asking them why they do not correct their children.  But they say that since adult life is full of hardship, childhood should e free of it.  It is a kindly view, even if misguided."

"Caleb was a hero, there is no doubt of it.  He ventured forth from one world to another with an explorer's courage, armored by the hope that he could serve his people.  He stood shoulder to shoulder with the most learned of his day, ready to take his place with them as a man of affairs.  he won the respect of those who had been swiftest to dismiss him."

While I was reading this book I was listening to another book, Her Mother's Hope, which I will review later.  They both had the common thread of girls who desperately wanted to learn and progress but were denied formal education.  As much I understand the historical context, and know that it even goes on today in some cultures, I have a hard time wrapping my head around the idea of being denied an education because of my gender.  I have been blessed with the opportunities to really learn and explore anything I wanted, as well as encouragement to do so.  I am far removed from my college days and formal education but I am really feeling a responsibility to take advantage of the other learning opportunities that are around me. It's seems wasteful not too when so many girls didn't ever have the chance.  I'm not sure what I will do to fulfill my need to learn, but it is definitely something I want to explore. 

Since I finished reading it, I haven't been able to get Caleb's Crossing out of my mind, the mark of a really great book.  Definitely deserves an A

1 comment:

ramsam said...

I loved Year of Wonders, too (but not the ending) but I didn't like people of The Book, so I was nervous about Brooks new one. Thanks for the review- I will definitely add this to my list!