Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks

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Aug 10, 2011

Set in the 1640’s on Martha’s Vineyard – called only “The Island” at that time – this is a work of fiction based on the real life story of Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk, a member of the Wopanaak tribe and the first Native American to graduate from Harvard University, a college originally intended to educate “the savages.”  The story is told by Bethia, daughter of missionaries who purchased land on the island from Caleb’s tribe.  Bethia recounts her friendship with Caleb beginning in the wilds near her home where they taught each other about their respective cultures and became as close as brother and sister.  The “crossing” element deals with Caleb’s transition from the religion of his birth to Christianity and delves into some of the difficulties involved, especially in that puritanical period.   The issue of the “place” of women in society is explored through Bethia’s strong desire to learn everything that her father taught his male scholars.  Written in the 21st century, the novel no doubt only grazes the surface of the sexism and racism common at that time.  Although it is a work of fiction, Brooks’ research is evident and is discussed at some length at the end of the work.  Along with a story full of drama and interesting characters, readers will find this account set in very early history of our country enlightening.

Written by Jane R.

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