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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Absorbing and Thought-Provoking Story
Set in Martha's Vineyard in the 1650s, Geraldine Brooks' latest novel is the story of Bethia, the daughter of a Calvinist minister, member of a settlement of English colonists, and of Caleb, a Native American and son of a chieftain. Bethia grows up in the tiny settlement at Great Harbor and, although she is bright and is literate, she is, like most females of the time,...
Published on 5 May 2012 by Susie B

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3.0 out of 5 stars The first Native American to graduate from Harvard University
The first Native American to graduate from Harvard University.

This was the fourth book I'd read by Geraldine Brooks, whose novel, The Year of Wonders is one of my all-time favourites. Unfortunately Caleb's Crossing didn't quite grab me in the same way, possibly because the historical character didn't feature centrally in the narrative. In addition, being...
Published 1 month ago by DubaiReader


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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Absorbing and Thought-Provoking Story, 5 May 2012
By 
Susie B - See all my reviews
(TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Caleb's Crossing (Paperback)
Set in Martha's Vineyard in the 1650s, Geraldine Brooks' latest novel is the story of Bethia, the daughter of a Calvinist minister, member of a settlement of English colonists, and of Caleb, a Native American and son of a chieftain. Bethia grows up in the tiny settlement at Great Harbor and, although she is bright and is literate, she is, like most females of the time, denied the education that is given to her brother. However this allows Bethia more free time and she escapes whenever she can to enjoy the landscape and to watch the native inhabitants of the island. When Bethia is twelve years old, she meets Caleb who shares with her his knowledge of the natural world and, in return, she introduces him to the pleasure of books. And so starts a friendship that will have lasting consequences for both Bethia and Caleb and for those close to them - especially when Bethia's father decides to educate Caleb causing a rift between the communities on the island and particularly when Caleb feels he must change himself and adopt English ways in order to help his people. There is a huge amount more to this story which has many layers to it concerning issues of gender, race and religion but that is for prospective readers to discover.

This book is beautifully written and, in Bethia, Geraldine Brooks has created a very likeable heroine and she has taken great care (as she states in her Afterword) to try and capture the expressions and vocabulary that a young woman of Bethia's class, upbringing and beliefs might have used. 'Caleb's Crossing' is inspired by a true story (Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk was the first Native American to attend Harvard College in 1660) but the author has used her imagination to great effect to produce a marvellous story that is fascinating, thought-provoking and very absorbing. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and became so engrossed with Bethia and her life in the 1600s, that it almost felt strange when I surfaced from this book to be in the twenty-first century. Geraldine Brooks is a wonderful storyteller and 'Caleb's Crossing' is an unusually good book.

4.5 Stars.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great book, 14 Dec 2011
This review is from: Caleb's Crossing (Hardcover)
Don't be misled by the title and jacket description of this book.

They will have you believe that Caleb's Crossing is about the first Native American to graduate from Harvard University in 1665.

Don't get me wrong - this is central to the story and is the reason Geraldine Brooks wrote this book.

However, alongside it is the equally powerful story of the book's narrator, Bethia Mayfield, and her detailed account of life as a woman in the mid-17th Century.

I love historical fiction and also recommend two of Brooks' previous books:

* People of the Book: A book lover's delight - a book that tells the story of a centuries old book.

* Year of Wonders: The story of an English housemaid and her village during the 1666 plague.

In Caleb's Crossing, Brooks creates a work of fiction from scant historical fact. She goes to great lengths to recreate the life and times of the era, when Native Americans were commonly referred to as "salvages" and women were required to live in the shadow of men.

She creates a strong contrast between the fiery spirit of Native American traditions and the sobering repression of English Puritan ways.

While I enjoyed the story of Caleb, for me, Bethia's story was the real drawcard of this book.

As she narrates Caleb's story and his "crossing" to English ways, Bethia also introduces us to the issues facing women of her era.

It is saddening to see her sharp wit and intelligence silenced by the prejudices of her time.

It also made me wonder: if women had been able to speak up throughout the ages, how different would the world be that we live in today?

Click on my profile above to find more of my recommended reads and visit my website to register for free email updates.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars enlightening, engrossing, emotive, 17 July 2011
By 
Cloggie Downunder (Australia) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Caleb's Crossing (Paperback)
Caleb's Crossing is the fourth novel by Geraldine Brooks. As with her other novels, fiction is built on fact. In this case the fact is the life of Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk, the young son of a Wampanoag chieftain, who, in 1665, was the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College. The story is narrated by Bethia Mayfield, the daughter of a Calvinist minister living on the island of Noepe (Martha's Vineyard), and begins when twelve-year-old Bethia meets Caleb whilst she is out gathering clams. Bethia's diary paints a vivid picture of life in an English Puritan settlement in the 17th century, and the effects on both cultures of interaction with the Native population. As events unfold, we watch Bethia, in her innocence and ignorance, using faulty logic, come to incorrect conclusions and thus suffers unwarranted guilt. As Bethia grows and matures, so does her narrative voice. The struggle between the English ministers and the Native medicine men for the acceptance of their beliefs amongst the native population is well portrayed. Caleb's stubborn uncle, medicine man Tequamuk, seems remarkably prescient on the subject of the future of Native Americans.
Each time I pick up a book, fiction or non-fiction, by Geraldine Brooks, I look at the description on the jacket and wonder if I am going to like this one. By now, I should have learned that, no matter the subject matter, this author does not disappoint her readers. The depth of her research stands out. Her characters are always well developed, the dialogue is authentic, and she manages to convey the mood and atmosphere perfectly. Brooks manages to squeeze a wealth of facts into an easily-digestible package. I laughed and cried. I especially loved Caleb's explanation and opinions on the native and English gods. I enjoyed this novel more than I expected to. It was engrossing and enlightening. The afterword was especially interesting. Once again, Brooks gives us a wonderful read.
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3.0 out of 5 stars The first Native American to graduate from Harvard University, 17 May 2014
By 
DubaiReader "MaryAnne" (Rowlands Castle, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (VINE VOICE)   
The first Native American to graduate from Harvard University.

This was the fourth book I'd read by Geraldine Brooks, whose novel, The Year of Wonders is one of my all-time favourites. Unfortunately Caleb's Crossing didn't quite grab me in the same way, possibly because the historical character didn't feature centrally in the narrative. In addition, being historical fiction, the ending was decreed by history and my reaction was 'Oh no, after all that!', but of course, that was not a failing on Ms Brooks' part.

The main character was Bethia, who first meets Caleb as a child, wandering the countryside near her home. They share a love for their country and meet in secret, for their liaison, though innocent, would be disapproved of. Later she works at the university, attempting to glean what learning she can, while working behind the scenes.

It is the story of the desperate search for learning, for Bethia, as a Christian woman in the seventeenth century, and for Caleb, as a downtrodden 'native' in his newly-white country. It also narrates the early days of the college that was to become the noble institution of Harvard University.

Very little is known about Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck, the first Wampanoag to attend university and get an education, despite of all the prejudices against him. He graduted in 1665.

This was an interesting read and I learned a fair bit from it, but it was rather slow moving and required some effort to keep going.
I listened to the unabridged 12 hours and 9 minutes audio version, narrated by Jennifer Ehle, perhaps some editing would have helped keep my attention.

Also read by Geraldine Brooks:
The Year of Wonders: 5 stars
People of the Book: 3 stars
Nine Parts of Desire (non-fiction): 5 stars
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Another Winner from Ms.Brooks., 12 July 2013
This review is from: Caleb's Crossing (Paperback)
I am a huge fan of Geraldine Brooks' novels and was not disappointed in Caleb's Crossing. This book was inspired by the life of Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk, a member of the Wampanoag tribe of Noepe who was born around 1646 and the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College.

The narrator, Bethia Mayfield, is the daughter of a Puritan missionary whose father founded a settlement in Great Harbor, today's Martha's Vineyard and gives a clear account of what life was like for Native Indians and indeed, white colonists in the 17th century on the East coast of America. Bethia writes her story in the form of a diary which is divided into three parts.

The first part of the story is set in 1660 and tells of Bethia's meeting with Caleb, a young Wampanoag Indian and the nephew of the Tribe's leader and how Caleb came to be taken under her father's wing and to learn literature, classical languages and the tenets of Christianity.

The second part is set in 1661 when Caleb has moved to Cambridge along with Bethia's brother, Makepeace and Joel Iacoomis another Wampanoag boy. The three boys continue their studies at Master Corlatt's school and then Caleb and Joel move on to the Indian College at Harvard. Bethia is indentured as a housekeeper to Master Corlett in order to pay for Makepeace's prepatory education. Bethia agrees to this arrangement as she hopes to glean some education from overhearing lessons while working.

The third part of the novel skips forward several years to 1715 when we see Bethia on her deathbed.

As one has come to expect with Ms. Brooks, this book is beautifully written and meticulously researched. The text is rich in Native Indian and archaic words and it is hard to find a page that hasn't at least one previously unencountered word.

Bethia herself is a bit of an anachronism being more of a modern young lady than a woman of her time. She is very intelligent and delights in showing her brother, Makepeace, up in front of their father displaying her superior knowledge and later in Cambridge she is equally outspoken with Master Corlett. Her mother died when she was twelve and since then Bethia has run the household and, as with all women at that time, there was no question of her receiving a classical education notwithstanding the fact that she was far more intelligent and academically inclined than her brother. Bethia has always resented the constraints placed on her and the attitude of the colonists to the Native Indians and their pagan practices although her own father was a far more benign white missionary than most others of his ilk.

Caleb's crossing, ostensibly from the Island to the Mainland, is more tellingly from his Native Indian culture to the educated elite of colonial society and goes to the heart of this wonderfully told tale.

Highly recommended!
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, evocative and absorbing, 22 April 2011
By 
Ripple (uk) - See all my reviews
(TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Caleb's Crossing (Hardcover)
This is a wonderfully evocative story of the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College in 1665 as told through the eyes of his childhood friend, the daughter of a Puritan minister.

Let's start, as Geraldine Brooks has, with a fact: in 1665 the first Native American, Caleb Cheeshateaumauk, graduated from Harvard College. Around this, Brooks has created a wholly fictional story (the known facts are so few that this is largely unavoidable). The stroke of genius here is to put the story into the words of the entirely fictitious Bethia Mayfield, the daughter of an English minister on what we now call Martha's Vinyard, where Caleb lived in the Wampanoag tribe. At various points in her life, Bethia sets down events concerning her early secret friendship with Caleb on the island, to accompanying him and her brother to Harvard and the subsequent events.

Caleb's education - conducted in a mixture of Greek, Latin and Hebrew - was funded by rich English patrons keen to spread the word of God to the "heathen" natives. Other natives had attended Harvard but no one before Caleb saw it through to graduation. Not long after Caleb graduated though, vicious fighting broke out on the mainland between the settlers and the natives and all attempts at working with the native inhabitants where abandoned. The degree to which the details of this remarkable story match reality may be open to question, but that's really not the point. It is a terrific, touching and moving story that rightly celebrates Caleb's amazing achievements (as well as those of his friend Joel), graduating alongside the sons of the colonial elite.

In the final analysis, this isn't really so much about Caleb, as it is about the life of a young, brave, independent-minded young girl. The Puritan settlers' treatment of women was oppressive to say the least to modern eyes; the clearly intelligent Bethia was not permitted to be educated while her dullard older brother, Makepeace, ends up at Harvard with Caleb. The life of the early settlers was undoubtedly difficult, although perhaps things could have been easier for them if they hadn't been so determined to convert the natives to their Puritan religion, and Brooks wonderfully evokes this time.

The language of Bethia is of the period - think Arthur Miller's "The Crucible" (the Salem Witch Trials were in 1692). So while there are some terms that might not be familiar to us today and some slightly archaic wording, the meaning is clear and it gives a sense of authenticity to the voice of the narrator.

There's plenty of trauma and heartache along the way - times were hard for the settlers so don't expect happy endings all round. But running through the heart of the story is a tale of love and adventure. Bethia gains from young Caleb a greater appreciation of the local environment but is scared of the mystical pagan rites practised by the pawaaws that seem, to her at least, as communion with Satan. It's this boundary between the two cultures that Bethia and Caleb so movingly explore.

It's a fascinating story, evocatively and absorbingly told. I loved it. Highly recommended.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent historical tale, 16 Oct 2012
By 
D. Swann "swannie" (Kent UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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This review is from: Caleb's Crossing (Kindle Edition)
I read this for a Book Club on a cruise and was very glad I did. It is set in seventeenth century New England.
The style is easy to read notwithstanding full desvriptions of the scenery amd many unfamiliar native American words. The main charactero is female and many aspects of the place of womaen in society is brought out. The Caleb of the title is a native American so a second theme is the clash between cultures. Later in the book the setting moves to the college that later became Harvard. I was particularly interested in this aspect of American history about which I knew nothing.
I found that I didnt want to stop reading this tyo see what happened next and the final bonus was to discover that Caleb actually existed as did several other characters.
This author has used brief references to real people and incidents backed up by historical research to produce a gripping story.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Caleb's Crossing, 27 Jun 2012
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This review is from: Caleb's Crossing (Paperback)
Caleb's Crossing is a beautifully written book, in which the prose reflects the style of speech of the period. It brings to life a time when the american indian was regarded as a lesser species, and women were not expected to have opinions of their own. The characters are superbly drawn, and Bethia, the focal character, is a woman of courage and intelligence whose thirsting mind is always seeking more knowledge. Geraldine Brooks captured me from the opening sentence to the conclusion, and it is one of those rare books which cannot be put down, and yet you are sad to leave.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Caleb's Crossing, 9 Mar 2012
This review is from: Caleb's Crossing (Kindle Edition)
I enjoyed Caleb's Crossing but did not think it was as good as Geraldine Brook's other two titles I have read, People of the Book which was brilliant and Years of Wonder. The history was interesting but I did not engage with the characters as much.
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3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Breathing life into the past., 4 May 2011
By 
Ann Spencer (Carmel, CA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Caleb's Crossing (Hardcover)
I was unfamiliar with Ms. Brooks writing until a friend in the publishing industry handed me an advance copy of this book. Once I read the page I was hooked! Ms. Brooks is a wonderfully gifted writer who has a talent for bringing the past to life. The story is told from the perspective of Berthia Mayfield, a ministers daughter, as she grows up in the late 1600's among the puritan pioneers of the small settlement of Great Harbor-present day Martha's Vineyard. She feels a bit of an outcast as being a woman she can not purse the education she desires. He young days are spent roaming the areas beaches were she encounters the native Wampangoag Indians. She is all of 12 years old whe she first meets the young son of a Chieftain. Caleb is approximately her age and the two form a tentative friendship. Both are curious as to the alien world in which the other lives, and to which both are in there own ways out cast.

Bethia's father attempts to convert the local tribe but he is pitted against the tribes Shaman who's powerful magic has the minister questioning his own convictions. The Minister comes upon the idea to educate the young Caleb in the European tradition, and he eventually is at Harvard studying Greek and Latin. His education is supported by wealthy Patrons as a kind of experiment to see if the wild Indian can be educated. Bethia at the same time manages to go along with Caleb to Harvard she as an indentured servant. She is not sure of her fate but does not want to become a farm wife. Ms. Brooks makes great use of the characters of Caleb and Bethia, both outsiders to illustrate how a repressive dominate culture uses religion to control others who do not always fit into the main stream.

The book is packed full of historical fact and outlook. The story of Caleb is actually thinly based on fact, and Brooks has taken this smaller sliver of history and developed a heck of a story. I look forward to finding Ms. Brooks past books and finding more great reading.

I just finished another wonderful historical ficton novel "The Bridge at Valentine" Set In 1880's Idaho with a main female character that has a lot in common with Bethia.
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Caleb's Crossing
Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks (Paperback - 10 May 2012)
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