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Friday, April 22, 2011

Review - Geraldine Brooks - CALEB'S CROSSING

The book was a win for me from Heather from Book Addict and when I got the book nothing specific came to my mind other than the fact that I had read People of the Book and liked it. (for some strange reason I cannot save the image of the cover to paste it here) Sorry about that.

This book was a tough one for me to read. Overlying everything is a thread of sadness and I felt it strongly even in Bethia the principal female character of the story even at times of her happiness the underlying pull of ethos was very prevalent (for me).

The story deals with Caleb the first American Indian to graduate from Harvard in 1665. The travails, torments and torture almost that faced Caleb and Joel who followed him are all accounted in this book. Caleb's story is told by Bethia the daughter of the English minister who tutors both boys in Latin and Greek to prepare them for the entrance to Harvard. The English hope that the education of the two native American boys would lead to a widescale conversion of the "heathen" and "savages" and bring them back to the fold. The lack of understanding or even the need to try to understand a "different" culture and religion are very pronounced on the part of the English who presume that they know best in every circumstance.


The accounting of Bethia will indicate what it is to be a young woman in this period. Totally under the will of first her father, and on his demise her brother who is envious of her skills in understanding the languages which he struggles to pursue and who is petty enough to make trouble for her at every turn. Her grandfather who without hesitation indentures her services as a servant as he values his business more than a mere girl and how Bethia uses all the opportunities which come her way to try to educate herself in Hebrew, Latin and Greek even though it is considered very wrong for a woman to be educated. To know numbers and to be lettered was considered enough and anything more was considered a crime against nature and not to be even thought of. This was another part of the story which was a tough part to follow even. The story is imaginary but based on a true story so what was featured in the story is actually how things were at the time. The status of women specially poorer women like Bethia was nil - a good horse may have been considered more valuable.

The book is sad - and heavy going. I did not like the treatment meted out to Bethia who was only understood to some degree by her mother who died young. The entire burden of the family fell on her and she lived a drudge in the household. But, as the story unfolds you do hope that after all the struggle that Caleb and Joel will have a happy ending. Unfortunately it does not happen that way and the sadness deepens. Bethia will live to see her children's children and seems very content in her old age but the pathos of the history of her life and what she has seen will remain to the end.

A particularly moving story - of a period which was totally unknown to me. I hadn't read any books about Native Americans in the first place and this period of history in America was also unknown to me. Puritanism and the effects of it was also a new subject for me. In that sense I also understood a bit more about American history.

I would call this a "serious" read. A book of just over 300 pages in a very easy to read font.

8 comments:

Blodeuedd said...

I have read a book by her, it was sad but good. But this one seems to much sadder so dunno :(

Tiny Library said...

I've just checked out People of the Book from the library and can't wait to read it. This one does sound sad, but very interesting.

Mary said...

I like your perspective of the book. It's on my list!

chelleyreads said...

haven't heard of this one but you always read the most interesting books. like the sound of it.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

This is the first review I've read on this book. I had not realized it was a sad story, but despite this I still hope to read it as well. Nice review.

Darlene said...

This is one I'd really like to read. Nice review!

Laura Fabiani said...

I've been looking out for a review of this book. I need to be in a certain mood to read sad books, so I don't know if I will pick this one up anytime soon. Thanks for sharing.

leeswammes said...

I've read all other (3) books by Brooks and I've wondered about this one.

Sounds like it's heavy going. But the topic is interesting. I don't know anything about America in that era, I thought they were just a wild bunch, had no idea there were already universities etc.

Thanks for the review.