I always look forward to a Geraldine Brooks – she is a writer of the finest quality, who brings human stories out of historical research. I have read all of them, but somehow the concept behind this one failed to interest me like the magic of People of the Book. So, it was a library job.
I can’t say I was disappointed with Caleb’s Crossing, which avoided all the cliches I was afraid it would hit.
Despite the title, this is the story of Bethia Mayfield, daughter of a missionary on the island that is now known as Martha’s Vineyard. Her father has devoted his life to teaching the gospel to the Indians, but as a girl poor Bethia – with a thirst for knowledge – is denied the academic pathway. She listens as best she can to her brother’s lessons.
One day she meets a young Indian boy in the wilderness, and they share their thirst for knowledge in sharing their cultures with other. Now this is where you expect it to be just another romance between divided cultures, but no. Bethia and Caleb remain simply friends and circumstance keeps them together throughout Caleb’s education, all the way to Harvard. Ironically Caleb is accepted more readily as a student than Bethia would be.
Bethia eventually finds her place, but Caleb’s exposure to her God and her learning is his eventual undoing. And Bethia is left wondering if she was at fault for it all.
A tragic story, that shows the seemingly insurmountable divide between the culture of the English and of the natives. There are no answers here, but eventually Bethia accepts aspects of Caleb’s culture as part of him so I assume we are meant to see the possibilities here. If a minister’s daughter can see the beauty, why cant everyone?
Bethia is a tremendous character – I enjoyed her perspective and her plight for self-determination. Brooks – unlike the history books – never forgets the contribution of women to our times.