Caleb's Crossing

Caleb's Crossing

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Overview

Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks, To be Announced

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781441790187
Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.
Publication date: 05/03/2011
Edition description: Unabridged
Pages: 1
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.40(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Geraldine Brooks is the author of five novels: the Pulitzer Prize-winning March; the international bestsellers Caleb's CrossingPeople of the Book, and Year of Wonders; and, most recently, The Secret Chord. She has also written the acclaimed nonfiction works Nine Parts of Desire and Foreign Correspondence. Born and raised in Australia, she lives on Martha's Vinyard with her husband, the author Tony Horwitz, and their two sons.

Reading Group Guide

INTRODUCTION

Living in the isolated Puritan settlement of Great Harbor on Martha's Vineyard, Bethia Mayfield, the bright young daughter of the local minister, balances her strict religion with a passionate love of nature and a growing curiosity about the culture of the Wampanoag tribe that populates the island. When Bethia secretly strikes up a friendship with a young Wampanoag named Caleb, she unknowingly begins a journey that will shape her life. Intelligent, independent, and kind, Bethia is the narrator and the heart of Geraldine Brooks's stunning new novel, Caleb's Crossing, the story of Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk, who in 1665 became the very first Native American to graduate from Harvard.

Torn between her commitment to her religion and her family and her longing for freedom and intellectual fulfillment, Bethia is a young woman built of contradictory desires. With Caleb, she finds an escape from her stern and pious community in which women are expected to be silent and subservient, the community that denies Bethia an education simply because of her gender. But for all the freedom that Caleb inspires in her, he struggles to understand her dogged sense of duty and deference. Even as he chooses to adopt her religion, he encourages her to rebel and questions the obedience at the root of her faith.

Their relationship is soon upended as Caleb comes to live with Bethia's family so that he can be groomed to enter a preparatory school in Cambridge along with her elder brother, Makepeace. Living under the same roof yet forced to keep their earlier friendship hidden, Bethia watches Caleb blossom under the tutelage she so craves. When a tragedy befalls the Mayfield family, Makepeace's hope for entering Harvard suddenly rests on Bethia's shoulders, demanding that she sacrifice her pride and her freedom to make his education possible. The shifting boundaries of Bethia's complex and profound relationship with Caleb change with their arrival together in Cambridge; as he enters school, Bethia becomes an indentured servant, and while their lives move in markedly different directions, their friendship endures.

Caleb's Crossing follows Bethia and Caleb from Grand Harbor to Cambridge and beyond, charting not only their crossing of the stretch of ocean between island and mainland but of the vast—and sometimes unbridgeable—expanse between Native American and white settler, between pagan and Christian, and between male and female. Brooks has built a world of emotion, struggle, and natural beauty in which the balance between the traditions of the past and the potential of the future are captured in the lives of two young friends.
 

ABOUT GERALDINE BROOKS

Geraldine Brooks is the author of six books, including the novel Year of Wonders and the nonfiction workNine Parts of Desire; her second novel, March, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2006. Earlier in her career, Brooks was a foreign correspondent for The Wall Street Journal and was stationed in Bosnia, Somalia, and the Middle East. Born in Australia, she currently divides her time between Martha's Vineyard and Sydney.
 

A CONVERSATION WITH GERALDINE BROOKS

Q. In writing a historical novel such as Caleb's Crossing, what is the balance between detective work and pure imagination? Could you briefly describe your research and writing process?

I like to follow the line of fact as far as it leads, so I do a vast amount of research. But I always make sure that the story drives it, which means I wait for the narrative to tell me what it is I need to know. So I write for a while, then go to archives or to interview experts, then I come back and incorporate what I have learned into the fiction. I don't always follow the facts—sometimes the story needs to veer away from them for a while. And that's why I always include an afterword, to set out the truth as far it is known and to show where my novel has deviated from it.

Q. Your first novel, Year of Wonders, also takes place in the seventeenth century. What is it about this time period you find so inspiring? Did any of the information you gained researching that novel help your work on Caleb's Crossing?

It is a rich period to me because the modern mind is emerging from the medieval mind, and you can sense the struggle. When you read some of the writings of people who lived in the mid-seventeenth century, they are recognizable—you understand their predicaments, you get their jokes. Yet at other times you encounter minds formed by a worldview quite alien to our own. It's the time Newton is shaping modern scientific thought, and yet witches are still being burned at the stake. I was familiar with all this from Year of Wonders. Anna Frith's small community was largely puritan—the kind of people who might have taken ship for the new England colonies if they'd had the means.

Q. The relationship between the white settlers and Native American population has always been a difficult one, and the creation of the Massachusetts colony still has political ramifications today. As someone who didn't grow up in the United States, what is your relationship to these events? Are there comparable events in Australian history?

Australia too has a brutal history of dispossession of its Aboriginal inhabitants. But as I was researching the book, I was astonished to discover that I have a direct ancestor who almost certainly knew Caleb. My some-number-of-greats grandfather was Ephriam Cutter, a glazier in Cambridge in the 1660s. His sister was the wife of Elijah Corlett, the schoolmaster who prepared Caleb for Harvard. So I had a closer relationship to these events than I had ever imagined.

Q. As you note in the afterword, the facts of Caleb's life are barely known. What was it about his story that made you think it had the potential to be a novel?

The questions: Who was this remarkable young scholar? How did he get to Harvard? What was Harvard like in the 1660s? And on, and on. As soon as I learned of Caleb, I was intrigued, and I found that I couldn't stop thinking about him and speculating on what his experience might have been.

Q. Both Caleb and Bethia are placed in set roles by society because of his race and because of her gender. In looking at their respective journeys in the novel, would it be fair to say that Caleb's struggle is to exist between two worlds while Bethia's struggle is to try to flourish within one?

Yes, I think that is a very apt way to describe it.

Q. As a narrator, Bethia creates a warm and intimate relationship with the reader, despite the formal structure and vocabulary of her seventeenth-century English. How were you able to develop such a unique and historically accurate voice without compromising the reader's ability to relate to her?

It took a long while to feel assured about her voice because there are no female diaries extant from that period to draw upon, to prime the pump, as it were. But in the end, after reading what I could in verbatim court records, letters, wills, and other documents, she did begin to speak to me. After that it's a kind of channeling that goes on. I just hear the voice very clearly.

Q. Bethia mentions being inspired by the accomplishments of the poet Anne Bradstreet. This is not a name most readers might recognize. Were you familiar with her work prior to writing the novel?

Yes, I was because I love poetry and read it voraciously. She is North America's first published poet, after all. She deserves to be celebrated!

Q. While we get hints from Bethia as to what she's like in her old age, how do you see the rest of her life progressing after the events of the novel? What could Caleb have accomplished had his story not ended so early?

I think I have let Bethia speak for me on this. He might have had an immense impact. The fact that Thomas Danforth, who was an esteemed jurist and political leader, had charge of him at the time of his death is highly significant. Danforth would not have been involved unless Caleb was considered a promising young man. And Caleb's own achievements as a scholar support that view.

Q. As a writer, your work includes both fiction and nonfiction, covering seventeenth-century America to modern life in the Middle East. As a reader, are your interests as broad or do your tastes remain more constant? What is your favorite book?

At this moment in my life I would have to say Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. I do read widely, including children's and young adult literature, which I read to and with my sons. I admire these books a great deal because they understand the virtues of great plotting and the fundamental importance of story.

Q. What are the different emotional costs and rewards that come with writing fiction as opposed to journalism? Do you feel that your strengths as a journalist are the same as your strengths as a novelist?

To be quite frank I think my greatest strength as a journalist was being able to talk my way into tough situations and put up with uncomfortable conditions for weeks on end. If you could actually show up—be there for the coup or the firefight or the disaster—that was 90 percent of it. The events were so dramatic, the human predicaments so poignant and tragic, it didn't actually require much skill to write about them.

Q. What is your next project?

Another historical novel. And that's all I have to say about it at this point.
 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • In discussing the purchase of the island from the Wampanoag, Bethia's father says, "some now say that [the sonquem] did not fully understand that we meant to keep the land from them forever. Be that as it may, what's done is done and it was done lawfully" (p. 9). Do you agree with his opinion?
  • With that in mind, examine Caleb's view of the settlers on p. 143 – 144. Why does he say that the sound of their "boots, boots, and more boots" (p. 143) moved him to cross cultures and adopt Christianity? Contrast this with Tequamuck's reaction to the settlers' arrival (p. 295). Placed in their situation, what would you have felt?
  • Look at Bethia's discussion of the question "Who are we?" at the top of p. 57. Of the options that she offers, which seems most true to you? Are there other options you would add to her list?
  • On p. 285, Joseph Dudley discusses the philosophical question of the Golden Mean, which suggests that the ideal behavior is the middle point between extremes. But he then goes on to argue against this belief, stating that, in fact, there is no middle point between extremes such as "good and evil, truth and falsehood." Which perspective do you agree with?
  • Compared with those in her community, Bethia is remarkably unprejudiced in her view of the Wampanoag. Did you grow up surrounded by prejudices you disagreed with? How did this affect you? Conversely, did you have prejudices in your youth that you've since overcome?
  • Bethia sees her mother's silence as a great strength and tool in dealing with society, particularly as a woman in a male-dominated culture. However, while Bethia repeatedly tries to emulate this behavior, she's often overcome by her own passionate opinions. Find an example where Bethia's boldness in stating her mind is a good thing, and an example where it brings her trouble. Have you ever wished you had spoken when instead you stayed quiet—or wished you had stayed quiet instead of having spoken your mind?
  • The Wampanoag and the Puritans have very different views on raising children. Describe the differences you see between the two and which method you believe is healthier. Are Caleb and Bethia the typical product of their respective societies?
  • Bethia acknowledges that her own religion could seem as crazy to Caleb as his does to her: "Of course, I thought it all outlandish. But… it came to me that our story of a burning bush and a parted sea might also seem fabulous, to one not raised up knowing it was true" (p. 35). In the end, Caleb does come to accept Bethia's religion, and she develops a kinder attitude toward him. Have you or anyone you know ever converted religions? Have you grown interested in or accepting of religions or practices that initially struck you as strange or foreign?
  • When visiting Italy, Bethia writes of feeling overwhelmed by how different it was from her own home. Have you ever had a similar experience when traveling somewhere new? Did your travels make you see your own home in a new light? Does Bethia's visit to Italy change her beliefs or behavior?
  • Unlike Bethia, her son has no interest in traveling to older countries like Italy, saying that "everything there is done and built and finished. I like it here, where we can make and do for ourselves" (p. 274). Is this sense of independence and potential still true of the United States today?
  • Both Bethia and Caleb struggle against the limits and expectations placed on them by society. How are their experiences similar? How are they different? Who faces the greater challenge?
  • Customer Reviews

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    Caleb's Crossing 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 243 reviews.
    nyauthoress More than 1 year ago
    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
    ElectraMagnet More than 1 year ago
    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.
    DEVILICIOUS More than 1 year ago
    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!
    racheldevenishford More than 1 year ago
    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.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    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.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    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.
    MDTuck More than 1 year ago
    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.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I liked this book but I did not love it.  
    Dutrieux More than 1 year ago
    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.
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    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Great history book, back in the times when the Pilgrims landed at Great Harbor and what a beautiful land for Caleb and the change of life for both Caleb and Bethia, English was not spoken as today. At the end with all the education, it end up very sad for Caleb and his friend Joel. Great book of what it must have been back in the 1600.
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    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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