04 January 2012

Just finished reading...

Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks.*

In 1665, a young Wampanoag man from what is now known as Martha's Vineyard became the first Native American to graduate from Harvard. Geraldine Brooks takes this fact and builds a novel around it.

The story is told from the point of view of (fictional) Bethia Mayfield, a Puritan girl growing up on the island, part of a splinter group of Puritans who are not quite as strict as most. Intelligent and fond of learning, Bethia is disappointed when her father tells her she is too old to continue lessons with her older brother Makepeace, and must follow a woman's path.

One day while she's out clamming, she meets a young man whom she calls Caleb. As they become friends, she realizes that he's as intellectually thirsty as she is, even though the English are certain that the indigenous people are dull and stupid.

The map of the island at the beginning of the books is extremely helpful. A glossary would also be beneficial, as having to continually search for meanings of contemporary terms pulls the reader out of the story and Bethia's world.

Ms. Brooks has created an amazingly believable world around Caleb. The story is rich in historical detail. Through Bethia, she makes real the hardships of colonial life: the cold, the hunger, the smell.

Coincidentally, in the spring of 2011, a young woman became only the second Wampanoag from Martha's Vineyard to graduate from Harvard University since 1665.

*FTC Full Disclosure: Many thanks to the publisher, who sent me a copy of the book for review purposes.

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