Caleb's Crossing: A Novel

( 242 )

Overview


A richly imagined new novel from the author of the New York Times bestseller, People of the Book.

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 ...

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Overview


A richly imagined new novel from the author of the New York Times bestseller, People of the Book.

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 Barnes & Noble

Geraldine Brooks is a contemporary Australian novelist, but all her fictions transport us to other places and other times. From her 2001 Discover selection Year of Wonders to his 2005 Pulitzer Prize-winning March to her 2008 bestseller People of the Book, each novel created a separate, completely believable microcosm. In Caleb's Crossing, we enter late seventeenth century Massachusetts through the eyes of Bethia Mayfield, the outspoken daughter of a Bay Colony Calvinist minister. With the piqued curiosity of an adolescent, she crosses borders to become friends with the title character, the son of a Wampanoag chieftain. The convergences and the disparities of their lives form the core of this arresting historical novel.

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
Library Journal
In 1665, Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck was the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College. Here, Pulitzer Prize winner Brooks imagines that Caleb was befriended by Bethia Mayfield, whose minister father wants to convert the neighboring Wampanoag and makes educating Caleb one of his goals. Bethia, herself desperate for book learning, ends up as an indentured servant in Cambridge, watching Caleb bridge two cultures. What Brooks does best; I'm anticipating. With a 15-city tour.
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.

The Barnes & Noble Review

"Who are we, really? Are our souls shaped, our fates written in full by God, before we draw our first breath? Do we make ourselves, by the choices we our selves make? Or are we clay merely, that is molded and pushed into the shape that our betters propose for us?"

These are pressing concerns for the spirited young heroine of Geraldine Brooks's absorbing new historical novel, Caleb's Crossing. Bethia Mayfield's forbidden friendship with Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk, a member of the Wôpanâak tribe of Martha's Vineyard, whom she first meets as a 12-year-old sent to dig clams for her family's supper, changes both their lives. While Caleb teaches Bethia to walk silently through woods without leaving a trail and to name and gather the island's wild bounty, she teaches him to read and speak English. Over time, she helps this "half-naked, sassafras-scented heathen anointed with raccoon grease" make the crossing between his native traditions and her English Christian culture to become the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College, in 1665.

While Caleb is loosely based on an actual person, born around 1646, Brooks's narrator, Bethia Mayfield, is a wholly fictional creation. With this headstrong, intelligent heroine who chafes against the constrained status of women imposed upon her by her patriarchal minister father and magistrate grandfather, Brooks returns to several pet themes prominently featured in her last two books -- Pulitzer Prize-winning March (2005) and People of the Book (2007): the sexism, racial prejudices, religious strictures, and pedagogical practices of earlier eras. In Brooks's novels, a high value is placed on books and scholarship.

Bethia, like Brooks's other sympathetic young heroines, leans toward modern, proto-feminist sensibilities -- which makes it easy for contemporary readers to empathize and identify with her struggles. How enraging that her brother Makepeace, a poor, small-minded student, gets to study Latin and Greek, which she can only pick up by eavesdropping while slaving over his dirty linens and daily bread! How frustrating that "silence was a woman's sole safe harbor." The effect, at times, has the simple forcefulness of children's literature aimed at stirring a sense of righteous indignation in order to deliver reverberating, historically derived moral lessons. (Kathryn Stockett's The Help similarly manipulates our emotions by playing our enlightened, liberal sensibilities about race and domestic help against nasty attitudes from the not-so-distant past.)

Born and raised in Australia, Brooks sets her books in places she knows firsthand: parts of March unfold near her Virginia residence, and parts of People of the Book are set in Bosnia, where she worked as a correspondent for The Wall Street Journal. Caleb's Crossing is rooted in Martha's Vineyard, Brooks's current home -- and her love for the island comes through in lush descriptions of its natural beauty: "This morning, light lapped the water as if God had spilt a goblet of molten gold upon a ground of darkest velvet," she writes.

The effectiveness of historical fiction depends to a great extent on voice and details, and Brooks again proves her mastery of both. Bethia's narrative is steeped in a world where misfortunes -- including the untimely deaths of several siblings and her parents -- are thought to be just punishment by a vengeful God for sins that include "thirsting for forbidden knowledge" and despair: "Break God's laws and suffer ye his wrath. Well, and so I do. The Lord lays his hand sore upon me, as I bend under the toil I now have -- mother's and mine, both. The tasks stretch out from the gray slough before dawn to the guttered taper of night," 15-year-old Bethia writes.

Brooks captures both the cadences and attitudes of English colonists with vocabulary to match: "square cap" for scholar, "salvage" for savage, and "sennight" for week. An unmarried pregnant woman is "bastard-bellied," "harlotized," and "forwhored." In contrast with her beloved home in bright and airy Great Harbor -- now called Edgartown -- Bethia describes the "smear and stench of English industry" in the "unlovely town" of Cambridge, where she is indentured as a servant in exchange for her brother's tuition at Master Corbett's Latin preparatory school: "cold and clemmed, and all is drudgery."

The story of Caleb's experiences at Harvard is less familiar than Bethia's personal saga of a young woman making her way in the world against cultural obstacles. Grounded in research -- including a "hair-tearingly aggravating" early history of the college replete with "reflexive racism" -- Brooks's animation of this little-known facet of American history underscores why one reads historical fiction. In an afterword, the author helpfully sets the record straight "by distinguishing scant fact from rampant invention." She also notes that, while other Native Americans from Martha's Vineyard have completed graduate degrees at Harvard since 1665, it is only this spring that the first Wôpanâak from the island since Caleb is due to receive an undergraduate degree there -- and a woman, no less. Progress!

--Heller McAlpin




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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780670021048
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 5/3/2011
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 399,373
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Geraldine Brooks

Geraldine Brooks is the author of the novels People of the Book, March (Winner of the Pulitzer Prize) and Year of Wonders and the nonfiction works Nine Parts of Desire and Foreign Correspondence. Born and raised in Australia, she lives on Martha's Vineyard with her husband, the author Tony Horwitz, and their two sons.

Visit geraldinebrooks.com

Biography

Australian-born Geraldine Brooks is an author and journalist who grew up in the Western suburbs of Sydney and attended Bethlehem College Ashfield and the University of Sydney. She worked as a reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald for three years as a feature writer with a special interest in environmental issues.

In 1982 she won the Greg Shackleton Australian News Correspondents scholarship to the journalism master's program at Columbia University in New York City. Later she worked for The Wall Street Journal, where she covered crises in the the Middle East, Africa, and the Balkans.

Her first novel, Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague was an international bestseller. In 2006, she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in fiction in 2006 for March, a story that imagines the Civil War experiences of the absent father in Louisa May Alcott's beloved classic Little Women. She has also written nonfiction, including Foreign Correspondence, an award-winning memoir about her search for the international penpals who enriched her childhood.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 242 )
Rating Distribution

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(70)

4 Star

(67)

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(57)

2 Star

(27)

1 Star

(21)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 242 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 3, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    A Special Niche in Outstanding Historical Fiction

    The best historical fiction takes historical fact and pulls us in by creating interest in characters of the time period. Pulitzer Prize winner Geraldine Brooks is one of the most versatile historical fiction writers of today. Her talent lays in takes a slice of history and creating a world we long to enter. Imaginatively conceived and exquisitely written with compelling characters, Caleb's Crossing will command your attention and demand your respect. 1660. Great Harbor (now Martha's Vineyard), Massachusetts. Bethia Mayfield anticipates the arrival of Caleb, a member of the Wampanoag tribe, to her home for tutoring with her minister father. Unperceived by her family, she and Caleb, who share a love of nature, have learned each other's languages and formed a friendship over the past few years. Her brother and Caleb, the first Native American to do so, enter Cambridge to prepare for studies at Harvard. Bethia feels at a loss when she leaves Martha's Vineyard to become a servant in the headmaster's home. Her love of learning prods her secret vigilance in listening to all the lessons. Integral elements of the remarkable Caleb's Crossing are joy in learning, unexpected death, heartbreaking starvation, and the ever-present bond between Caleb and Bethia despite all hardship and prejudice against their bond. Knowledge equals power in this unique book. Caleb says, "And since it seems that knowledge is no respecter of boundaries, I will take it wheresoever I can.if necessary, I will go into the dark to get it." Intrigued? You will find yourself reading in a leisurely fashion to fully savor the evocative prose. "And then I woke, on my cold pallet in this stranger's kitchen, with ice winds from the cracked window fingering my flesh and a snowflake melting slowly on the fireless hearth." The characters are absorbing. The soulful narrative voice of Bethia has an ethereal quality. She is haunted by guilt, taking upon herself blame for a smallpox outbreak, a death during the delivery of a baby-all because of her secret relationship with Caleb. Caleb yearns to be a Pawaaw, or healer of his people. For him, knowledge respects no boundaries. He glows with appreciation of life, zest for learning, curiosity and love of nature. The release of Caleb's Crossing coincides with an important Harvard University event. This May a degree will be awarded to Tiffany Smalley, the first Martha's Vineyard member of the Wampanoag tribe since Caleb to graduate. An official portrait of Caleb will be painted in commemoration. To what does Caleb cross? Read Caleb's Crossing to find out. In the book, Ms. Brooks highlights this question: What are the effects of attempting to Christianize an already spiritual, established civilization? Her own opinion is not expressed. Instead, she tells Caleb's story with forthrightness and clarity, allowing the reader to draw his own conclusions. I thank Viking for providing a copy. The opinions expressed unbiased and solely that of the reviewer. Reviewed by Holly Weiss, author of Crestmont

    36 out of 38 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 27, 2011

    I Also Recommend:

    DEEPLY MOVING!

    CALEB'S CROSSING is an emotionally engaging and deeply moving work, a wonderful and moving story of two people trying to find their place in the world and the long road to reach their goal.
    Opening in 1660, in Martha's Vineyard, Caleb was the first Native American to graduate from Harvard, the author paints a vivid portrait of life in Puritan New England. This story is a universal theme of jealousy, of disillusioned passion, of religious disagreements, and of un-reached potential. This one makes you grateful to have been born in this era!

    11 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 29, 2011

    I Also Recommend:

    Rich and luminous

    In writing Caleb's Crossing, Geraldine Brooks took a sliver of history, some notations on a page, and gave them flesh. Brooks gives us a view of history, opens it to us so that the reader can feel, when she looks up from the last page, as though she has become someone else. Maybe a Puritan in the seventeenth century. Or a member of the Wampanoag tribe that is rocked under the heft of the colonists that landed on it.

    Brooks does an excellent job of portraying the sorrow and hardships that both people faced in the time of colonization. She shows the difficulties of the colonists with acute vision and sympathy, while giving weight to their clumsiness and grave mistakes. She shows the beauty and simplicity of the Wampanoag way of life. In her words we feel the confusion of two peoples trying to live together, and all the misunderstanding and sorrow that ensues.

    Brooks skillfully juxtaposes the hardness of the Puritan brand of spirituality, and the softness of the people themselves. One gets the sense, in Bethia's father, that he is deeply loving and kind, while still maintaining a kind of cultural disfavor toward something like the education of his daughter.

    For me the high points of the novel existed within the description of the island. I was wrapped up in the beauty of Martha's Vineyard before it had been built up, civilized. Phrases like this were abundant. "...hot, sun scoured afternoons when the shore curved away in its glistening arc toward the distant bluffs." I am there.

    I loved watching as Caleb taught Bethia his knowledge of the island, how to be at ease in the place that she lived. And the relationship between Caleb and Bethia was the best aspect of the book. In Bethia's words, "He was, quite simply, my dearest friend."

    I had difficulty in the matter of Bethia's own crossing. I believed in her understanding and friendship with Caleb, in her love of the island and nature, in her attraction to ritual and dance, but certain events left me behind. I wasn't sure that a girl like her would go as far as she went. I won't give a spoiler now. I don't believe that the ideas on religion were entirely unbiased. I believe the author meant to be, but I think the ideas were delicately flavored away from the ideas of the Puritans, which is perhaps difficult not to do when they cultivated such rigidity as allowed them to punish women by beating them.

    To be friends from two races at that time was a dangerous thing. As Caleb crosses from one world to the other, Bethia questions whether her influence in his life was purely benign. These questions, whether there is possibility of the transfer of ideals from one culture to another, form the framework of the book. The suffering and heartbreak are evident, and in the end I was filled with a keen wish that we could do it all over. Tread with softness and respect, more like Bethia, rather than stomping with boots like the men of the past.

    10 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 26, 2011

    Imaginative historical novel... but a little flat

    This novel is a beautifully written story, and I think it captures the harsh difficulties of 17th century New England. It's particularly effective in describing the fragility of life in the colonial world, the futility of a woman's position in society, and the dominance of religious influence. The storyline is compelling, and at times it was quite moving.

    But something about this never clicked, and I'm struggling to identify why it didn't. I think the biggest problem is this: Though this book endeavors to tell Caleb's story, it really ends up being about Bethia. Caleb is just too simple... too compartmentalized. Like the "George Washington never told a lie" version of the man. In fact, many of the characters are a little underdeveloped, and this gives the story a kind of breezy feel. Everything is just a bit too convenient, as if characters are drawn out in a way to move a story along... not because they're people with real depth.

    To sum up: It's a good novel. But not a great one.

    9 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 7, 2011

    Highly recommended

    As expected based on the Author's other books, I thoroughly enjoyed Caleb's crossing. The author created vivid pictures in my mind and I had a hard time putting the book down. A very interesting and believable story with many subtle lessons as well.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 7, 2011

    A Long Ago World

    Caleb's Crossing should be required reading for every student. Bethia's journey to womanhood took place in the most diffulcult of times for women and female children. Early settlement days. Her courage and bravery in this stifilling environment was so amazing but, I am sure it spoke for many women. Her meeting with Caleb was an awaking for Bethia and for me. Caleb taught us how we should be behaving towards our fellow man. I would recommend this story to all children eight and over.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 7, 2013

    I liked this book but I did not love it.  

    I liked this book but I did not love it.  

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 13, 2012

    Great read

    Caleb's Crossing is a book that sticks with you long after you've finished reading it. The author does an excellent job making a long ago time come alive to the reader. It is thought-provoking and definitely made me grateful for the life I lead now - both as a woman and as an educator.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 13, 2014

    There are so many problems with this novel it is difficult to kn

    There are so many problems with this novel it is difficult to know where to begin. The voices are inconsistent, the characters cartoon and one dimensional, the settings described in tedious wrote language.
    Hooray for my public library that I invested time and not money in this pale frail and stereotypical work. I should have had a tip off that there was not waiting list for the novel. The stereotype of a woman yearning for education, a first nations being underestimated and all the battle between gods is well worn material that needed a fresh treatment here and alas did not get one. Disjointed, and typical, a disappointing but typical Brooks read. She is a writer publishers don't know what to do with - a fair story teller, a fair user of language but not and never will be great. She can be edited into wining a big prize but that is a huge investment. Without that strong editorial hand, this is pop literature suitable for YA audiences. A journalist does not make a novelist - too much telling vs. showing.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 9, 2014

    Caleb

    Gtg. Bbl.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 9, 2014

    Kalie

    Gtg bb soon

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 27, 2014

    Rare find

    This is a winning read for anybody that loves a good mix of fiction & history. Brooks has done her research and developed a beleivable story line of remarkable characters. Enjoyed every word. The book ends with an unpredictable finish to an interesting story.

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  • Posted November 22, 2013

    I Also Recommend:

    Excellent historical fiction

    Geraldine Brooks is a master at research of the era she determines to write about.
    The characters are believable and the premise comes through that almost 400 years later
    we still struggle with inequality and prejudices in many areas - geographically and personally. The writing is melodic and beautifully descriptive of island life and the
    environmental surroundings. I learned a lot about education in the 17thc in the colonies.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 14, 2013

    I loved this book.

    This is a must read for anyone concerned with the past in the education of the native american people. Its also a good fiction read with strong female input.

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  • Posted June 16, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    I like Caleb's Crossing because I like historical fiction. The c

    I like Caleb's Crossing because I like historical fiction. The characters are great. I like all characters except Bethia's brother Makepeace. He is a bit whiny and selfish. The ending is sad and it made me wonder if we should attempt to make others convert to our ways.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 30, 2013

    Enjoyed very much

    Loved the story and the historical writing.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 20, 2013

    If you like historical fiction then you will love this!

    This author can speak the language of the time period she is writing about and gives you insight and a window into their lives. I love that she takes a known fact and turns it into a good story resulting into learning new things about history. This is now my favorite Geraldine Brooks books.

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  • Posted March 1, 2013

    This was an outstanding Historical fiction book. I loved it and

    This was an outstanding Historical fiction book. I loved it and will seek other books by Geraldine Brooks.

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  • Posted December 11, 2012

    Interesting read....

    Some might call this historical fiction. Ms. Brooks gave insights into the early Northeastern settlers and their relationship with the Native Americans. She crafts the story around a juxtaposition of deep-held religious beliefs of the two main characters. In that way, it moved me. On the other hand, was it possible the hero became such a learned man? It certainly is a nice thought.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 4, 2012

    ROBIN SLOW BOOK

    This book I would not have bought! There was nothing to grip your teeth into! I did a fast read on it just to get done with it.

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