Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Review-Caleb's Crossing, by the Pulitzer Prize winning, Geraldine Brooks

Geraldine Brooks
Viking/Penguin Group, (May 3, 2011)
Hardcover, $26.95/3$31.00CAN
320 pages

CALEB'S CROSSING, is the story of Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk, the son of a Wampanoag chieftain who became the first graduate of Harvard in 1665.  Geraldine Brooks has researched his story and has conceived a fictionalized drama through the diary like memoir of Bethia Mayfield, a woman of fiction, daughter of a Puritan preacher.  They live on Great Harbor Island, today’s Martha’s Vineyard. Their friendship begins through clandestine meetings that leads to a lifelong kinship. Caleb and Storm Eyes are names they give each other. They soon became bi-lingual and share not only language, but a sensitivity to each other’s culture.  Bethia learns that Caleb will soon come to live at her house and study under her father’s strict tutelage, along side her brother, Makepeace Mayfield. 

Caleb and Bethia thirst for knowledge, but as a woman, it is out of her purview and she is expected to fulfill other duties in the home.  This does not deter the recalcitrant and often headstrong Bethia, who manages a way to learn and defy conventional norms despite her fear of Satan.

Caleb and his Native American friend Joel cross over the water that separates Great Harbor from Cambridge, to pursue their destiny at Harvard. The metaphor of that journey across the water is bountiful and imaginative in the hands of Ms. Brooks. Caleb’s crossing is Caleb’s struggle to reconcile his own culture with the fate of his adopted religious beliefs.  Just as ships sail across uncertain and treacherous water the fate of Caleb’s crossing is a story with an unpredictable destiny.

Geraldine Brooks is an extraordinary illusionist with adept visual acuity. Reading her novel Caleb’s Crossing will satisfy the most discriminating literary lover with phrasing that begs to be read again.

“From my canoe I could see the muscles working in the arms of Momonequem as he paddled ahead with father. His oar pierced the water without a splash, sending ripples arrowing back to shore, where turtles catching afternoon sunlight slid from the banks as we approached.” (63)

 “This morning, light lapped the water as if God had split a goblet of molten gold upon a ground of darkest velvet.” (255)

Close your eyes as the images she sketches appear in alluring fade-in transitions.

Countless themes play counterpoint in her novel as the author examines tolerance via racial prejudice, religious and cultural belief and female roles.

CALEB'S CROSSING, is a tragically moving story, memorable and beguiling as the reader has come to expect from the sensitive writing of Geraldine Brooks. An afterword is provided to clarify facts from the writer’s imagination.  Most highly recommended and a favored 2011 pick.

Disclosure: ARC was sent to me at no cost.  The above review is my honest opinion of this novel.

© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2008-2011].  July 5, 2011

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