Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Geraldine Brooks’s narrator in Caleb’s Crossing is Bethia Mayfield, who comes of age in a tiny settlement of Great Harbor in the 1660s with her fellow English Puritans. This group, estranged from the Massachusetts Bay Colony and their leader John Winthrop, carve out a living and struggle to coexist with the Wampanoag.
Bethia’s father, Great Harbor’s minister, wishes to convert the Wampanoag to Christianity, and with his ability to heal ailing natives from time to time, he makes headway with some of them and brings them to Calvinism, much to the dislike of the medicine men.
Bethia, a quick study and a covert eavesdropper, listens in on her own brother’s lessons in Latin and Greek, and she knows how to read and write as well as speak in the language of the Wampanoag. Out on her own one afternoon, she meets Caleb, the son of a Wampanoag leader -- and for over a year in secret, they teach each other what the other knows -- her, English and the Bible, and he, the ways of nature, farming and fishing, and the Wampanoag language. They form a close friendship, but when Caleb's abilities come to be known by Belia's father, he sees an opportunity to use Caleb as a way to bridge the gaps between the white man and the natives.
Caleb's fate and future intertwine with Belia's but not in a predictable way. Kudos to Brooks for that -- :)
Brooks’s historical novel is delightful. Her authentic language, her ability to create time and place, as well as the real events and people of which the book revolved makes this book a powerful and engaging read.