Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks

This is my fourth Geraldine Brooks novel having previously read Year of Wonders, People of the Book and March of which I was most impressed by March as a magnificent rendering of the life of Mr March from the famed Little Women story by Louise May Alcott.

I purchased Caleb’s Crossing as soon as it was released and for many reasons it sat on my bedside table unread for months. My book club friends had read it and loved it. On the first occasion that I did pick up the book to read it I only got through the first two chapters, for some reason I struggled with the prose and the characters voices did not feel authentic and struck me as formulaic. I ended up putting the book aside and tried to read The Elegance of the Hedgehog – another one that has wracked me with guilt as I just cant get into the story – again it’s the characters annoying me.

I picked up Caleb’s Crossing again during our Summer school holidays in January and this time I persevered. I now found myself  becoming immersed in the story along with the attention to the language of the time. There have been several comments on Brooks’ website that people would have appreciated a glossary to understand the meanings of the words used. I felt that most of them were able to be discerned through the context of the paragraph, but agree a glossary would be great.

Caleb’s Crossing is a fascinating insight into the Puritan settlers in America and the strained relationships and interactions with the Native American Indian populations. I also felt that this book had a strong feminist strain running throughout. The main character Bethia’s story and the young Indian woman who enters the Harvard Boarding house, shows how women’s fates were largely determined by the men in their lives and the class from which they came.  Even in these circumstances however, Brooks provides a glimpse of how women may have been able to grasp some ability to be independent and take back some power, however small that may have been. My feminist brain was struggling with the strictures in which these women’s lives were lead and makes me both appreciative of where I live today and continually amazed that it has taken us so long to get here.

I found the fraught relationships between the Native American Indians and the English settlers to have been sensitively dealt with in the story. There was a sense of respect for the Native American traditions and those traditions of Christian faiths without judgements through seeing that both occurred within their own cultural systems. With the inevitable clash between these cultural systems with the resulting impacts were simply stated and not a major focus. However, they did provide the context to Caleb’s situation in the story and for me this is the most moving part of the book. I was hoping for more of Caleb, but as the story is narrated by Bethia over her life, it naturally is concerned with her world.

I would recommend this book as I think it shows a very interesting chapter in America’s history and reminds me just how little I know of American history. I have included this book as my first Australian Women Writer’s review as Geraldine Brooks is Australian. She lives in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts the setting for her book and the home of the Native American Indians of Caleb’s tribe the Wampanoag.

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13 thoughts on “Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks

    1. Hi Cassie, thanks for stopping by. Stick with it if you find yourself wondering if you will like it. It had many redeeming qualities that made it a really good story. Have you read any of her other books?

      1. I haven’t. I’ve read a few short stories and anthologies she’s edited that I’ve really loved. Any other recommendations?

  1. Thanks for your excellent review, Carolyn. This was one of my book group’s selections last year, and I, too, enjoyed it – much more than March but not as much as Year of Wonders.

    1. Hi Denise, thank you. I always find that some books resonate with me depending on where I am at the time. I must go back a re-read Year of Wonders – it is such a long time ago that I read it.

  2. Geraldine Brooks is one of those authors that I always -mean- to try and somehow never get around to it! This one sounds very interesting to me so I’m going to try and get to it for the Australian Writers Challenge soon.

    1. You are amazing, I am awe-struck by your classics list and inspired to re-read Picnic at Hanging Rock as a result – an Australian Women’s Classic – I have such fond memories of first reading this plus my hubby’s Aunty was one of the school girls in the movie (not main characters!)

      1. I could just be extremely overly ambitious, lol. I wanted to include Picnic at Hanging Rock because of the Aust Writers Challenge – my classics reading up until now has been woefully small, especially anything that could be defined as an Australian classic.

        That’s very cool about your husband’s aunt! I’ve never seen the movie either so I might have to check that out once I’ve read the book.

  3. Hi Carolyn

    I appreciated your review. This is the first by Brooks that I’ve read and, while I enjoyed it, I expected more. People of the Book sounds excellent, though, and I’m intrigued by the premise of March. Thanks for your review and your participation in the #AWW2012 challenge.

    1. Hi Elizabeth, Thanks I know you were having issues with this book. I only just read your review which is fascinating. I see that we seem to have agreed on a couple of points. Enjoying the #AWW2012 but having terrible trouble finding 5 minutes for myself to sit down and write. Takes me ages to write a blog – I’m slow.

      1. Thanks for visiting my review blog, Carolyn, and your kind words about my review. I’m very glad you’re enjoying #aww2012. Finding time is such an issue – to read and to write! I’ve taken heart from some of the Get Reading people, trying simply to snatch 10 minutes here and there with a book. It’s starting to add up! Best of luck with your writing, too.

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