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.