Tag: Martha’s Vineyard

Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks

October 28th, 2014 — 9:56am

Screen Shot 2014-10-27 at 10.06.27 PMCaleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks – Caleb is one of two Israelites who left Egypt and survived to see the Promised Land. Geraldine Brooks has given this name to a Native American who in her novel is befriended by a young girl who is from one of the new settlements in the New World. Their friendship and subsequent lives are the story of this book. It is a fictional account, not only of their relationship, but also of what it was like growing up in this New World colony in the mid 17th century, which is now known as Martha’s Vineyard. It shows the interactions of these settlers with the natives of this land who lived nearby. There actually was a Native American by the name of Caleb who not only lived during this time period but who was educated by the settlers and ultimately went on to be part of one of Harvard’s earliest graduating classes This transformation of Caleb who had to crossover from his tribal beliefs and receive a Christian education which led to attending at Harvard was an exciting adventure and the main storyline of this book. The author Geraldine Brooks captured the atmosphere and life style of this period. She does this by a well-researched description of the living conditions and societal roles of her characters. She also uses the language and grammar of that time which while understandable to the modern reader still requires some retreat to the dictionary (electronic one in my case) For example;

When the light faded the cold seeped through my clogs and set my chilblains a-throbbing, I returned to the house and found Solace, who had wakened from nap, mewling softly…

A good historical novel (which this one certainly qualifies) not only provides feasible facts and actions of the characters but also should examine important social and political themes of the times. The author accomplishes this requirement quite well. We witness the good intentions of this group of early settlers not only to trade and negotiate with but also to teach the Native Americans about their deeply held religious beliefs. We see how many of the Native Americans are impressed with the apparent power of prayer to the Christian God as they see these white worshippers being able to survive disease, which the Native Americans despite the prayers to their gods were not successful in doing. (This was probably because the Europeans had come to the New World with antibodies to Small Pox and other diseases). Some native leaders foresaw the ultimate complete loss of their land and way of life, which would occur, and tried to resist. We also are reminded of the subsequent wars between these two groups and the later discrimination towards the Native Americans on the part of the settlers. For example, despite Caleb’s great accomplishments as well as those of a few other Native Americans at Harvard at this time in the 1650s, it took a great many years before another Native American would attend Harvard.

Through this engaging story the author also examined the role of women in the culture of the new world settlers. It was the job of girls and women to arise early, draw the water, prepare and cook the food, work the fields, clean the clothes etc. Even in the most educated families where there were scholars and ministers, young girls were lucky if they learned how to read, let alone study languages and classic history which was quite valued by these people.

This was a captivating novel, which provided enlightenment about what life was like at this time for the people depicted in the story. It also provided an emotional experience for the reader as we could identify with the characters and appreciate their struggles, hope, aspirations and disappointments.  


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