Caleb's Crossing

Caleb's Crossing

3.6 242
by Geraldine Brooks

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Once again, Geraldine Brooks takes a remarkable shard of history and brings it to vivid life. In 1665, a young man from Martha's Vineyard became the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College. Upon this slender factual scaffold, Brooks has created a luminous tale of love and faith, magic and adventure.

The narrator of Caleb's Crossing is Bethia

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Once again, Geraldine Brooks takes a remarkable shard of history and brings it to vivid life. In 1665, a young man from Martha's Vineyard became the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College. Upon this slender factual scaffold, Brooks has created a luminous tale of love and faith, magic and adventure.

The narrator of Caleb's Crossing is Bethia Mayfield, growing up in the tiny settlement of Great Harbor amid a small band of pioneers and Puritans. Restless and curious, she yearns after an education that is closed to her by her sex. As often as she can, she slips away to explore the island's glistening beaches and observe its native Wampanoag inhabitants. At twelve, she encounters Caleb, the young son of a chieftain, and the two forge a tentative secret friendship that draws each into the alien world of the other. Bethia's minister father tries to convert the Wampanoag, awakening the wrath of the tribe's shaman, against whose magic he must test his own beliefs. One of his projects becomes the education of Caleb, and a year later, Caleb is in Cambridge, studying Latin and Greek among the colonial elite. There, Bethia finds herself reluctantly indentured as a housekeeper and can closely observe Caleb's crossing of cultures.

Like Brooks's beloved narrator Anna in Year of Wonders, Bethia proves an emotionally irresistible guide to the wilds of Martha's Vineyard and the intimate spaces of the human heart. Evocative and utterly absorbing, Caleb's Crossing further establishes Brooks's place as one of our most acclaimed novelists.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Praise for Caleb's Crossing

“Caleb’s Crossing could not be more enlightening and involving.  Beautifully written from beginning to end, it reconfirms Geraldine Brooks’s reputation as one of our most supple and involving novelists.” —Jane Smiley, The New York Times Book Review
“Brooks filters the early colonial era through the eyes of a minister’s daughter growing up on the island known today as Martha’s Vineyard…[Bethia’s] voice – rendered by Brooks with exacting attention to the language and rhythm of the seventeenth century – is captivatingly true to her time.” —The New Yorker
“A dazzling act of the imagination. . .Brooks takes the few known facts about the real Caleb, and builds them into a beautifully realized and thoroughly readable tale…this is intimate historical fiction, observing even the most acute sufferings and smallest heroic gestures in the context of major events.” —Matthew Gilbert, The Boston Globe
“In Bethia, Geraldine Brooks has created a multidimensional, inspiring yet unpredictable character…Bethia’s forbearance, her quiet insistence, the way she creates her life using the best of whatever is handed to her, puts the struggles of American women today in perspective.” —Susan Salter Reynolds, The Los Angeles Times 
“Original and compelling. . .[Brooks’ characters] struggle every waking moment with spiritual questions that are as real and unending as the punishing New England winters.”—Paul Chaat Smith, The Washington Post

Paul Chaat Smith
Geraldine Brooks, once a foreign correspondent for the Wall Street Journal and more recently a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist…writes about early America the same way she wrote about Sarajevo and the Middle East, which is to say very well…[Bethia's] a fabulously engaging narrator…
—The Washington Post
Jane Smiley
The triumph of Caleb's Crossing is that Bethia succeeds as a convincing woman of her time, and also in communicating across centuries of change in circumstance, custom and language. She tells a story that is suspenseful and involving. It is also a story that is tragically recognizable and deeply sad…Caleb's Crossing could not be more enlightening and involving. Beautifully written from beginning to end, it reconfirms Geraldine Brooks's reputation as one of our most supple and insightful ­novelists.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Pulitzer Prize–winner Brooks (for March) delivers a splendid historical inspired by Caleb Cheeshahteaumauck, the first Native American to graduate from Harvard. Brooks brings the 1660s to life with evocative period detail, intriguing characters, and a compelling story narrated by Bethia Mayfield, the outspoken daughter of a Calvinist preacher. While exploring the island now known as Martha's Vineyard, Bethia meets Caleb, a Wampanoag native to the island, and they become close, clandestine friends. After Caleb loses most of his family to smallpox, he begins to study under the tutelage of Bethia's father. Since Bethia isn't allowed to pursue education herself, she eavesdrops on Caleb's and her own brother's lessons. Caleb is a gifted scholar who eventually travels, along with Bethia's brother, to Cambridge to continue his education. Bethia tags along and her descriptions of 17th-century Cambridge and Harvard are as entertaining as they are enlightening (Harvard was founded by Puritans to educate the "English and Indian youth of this country," for instance). With Harvard expected to graduate a second Martha's Vineyard Wampanoag Indian this year, almost three and a half centuries after Caleb, the novel's publication is particularly timely. (May)
Library Journal
In 1965, Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck of Martha's Vineyard graduated from Harvard, whose 1650 charter describes its mission as "the education of the English and Indian youth of this country." That much is fact. That Caleb befriended Bethia Mayfield, the free-spirited daughter of the island's preacher, is of course fiction—but it's luscious fiction in the capable hands of Pulitzer Prize winner Brooks (March). As one might expect from Brooks, Bethia is a keen and rebellious lass, indignant that she should be kept from book learning when her slower brother gets the benefit of an education. She first encounters Caleb in the woods, learning his language and ways while stoutly arguing her Christian beliefs; later, Bethia's zealous father brings Caleb into the household to convert him. And so begins Caleb's crossing, first from Native to English Colonial culture and then from the island to Cambridge, where he studies at a preparatory school before entering Harvard. Bethia ends up at the school, too—but as an indentured servant. VERDICT Writing in Bethia's voice, Brooks offers a lyric and elevated narrative that effectively replicates the language of the era; she takes on the obvious issues of white arrogance, cultural difference, and the debased role of women without settling into jeremiad. The result is sweet and aching. Highly recommended. [Prepub Alert, 11/15/10.]—Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal
Kirkus Reviews

The NBA-winning Australian-born, now New England author (People of the Book, 2008,etc.) moves ever deeper into the American past.

Her fourth novel's announced subject is the eponymous Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk, a member of the Wampanoag Indian tribe that inhabits Massachusetts's Great Harbor (a part of Martha's Vineyard), and the first Native American who will graduate from Harvard College (in 1665). Even as a boy, Caleb is a paragon of sharp intelligence, proud bearing and manly charm, as we learn from the somewhat breathless testimony of Bethia Mayfield, who grows up in Great Harbor where her father, a compassionate and unprejudiced preacher, oversees friendly relations between white settlers and the placid Wampanoag. The story Bethia unfolds is a compelling one, focused primarily on her own experiences as an indentured servant to a schoolmaster who prepares promising students for Harvard; a tense relationship with her priggish, inflexible elder brother Makepeace; and her emotional bond of friendship with the occasionally distant and suspicious Caleb, who, in this novel's most serious misstep, isn't really the subject of his own story. Fascinating period details and a steadily expanding plot, which eventually encompasses King Philip's War, inevitable tensions between Puritan whites and upwardly mobile "salvages," as well as the compromises unavoidably ahead for Bethia, help to modulate a narrative voice that sometimes teeters too uncomfortably close to romantic cliché. Both Bethia, whose womanhood precludes her right to seek formal education, and the stoical Caleb are very nearly too good to be true. However, Brooks' knowledgeable command of the energies and conflicts of the period, and particularly her descriptions of the reverence for learning that animates the little world of Harvard and attracts her characters' keenest longings, carries a persuasive and quite moving emotional charge.

While no masterpiece, this work nevertheless contributes in good measure to the current and very welcome revitalization of the historical novel.

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Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 7.70(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

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