Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks

Geraldine Brooks has been writing historical novels for some years now, having started her career as a journalist and writing travel biography previously.  Year of Wonders was set in an English village forced to isolate itself because of the plague, March was an imagined life of the father in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women and People of the Book was set in the world of ancient books.  They were all fascinating in their own way, but very different from each other.  She has gone onto another completely new topic with her latest book Caleb’s Crossing.  It is based on the life of the first native American to graduate from the College in Newtowne which was founded in 1636 and was later renamed Harvard University.  That is to say, it was a highly unusual event.  What isn’t known from historical documents, Brooks uses her skills as a novelist to embellish the story, but she has tried to stay faithful to what is known.  The story is told through the voice of Bethia Mayfield who is the daughter of a local minister. Her life is strictly controlled and she isn’t able to get a formal education, but for a brief time she has some freedom when she befriends Caleb.  She gets what education she can by listening in on her father’s teaching of his son, and then Caleb and another Indian student.  She follows their story while dealing with her own circumscribed life  and the bigger one of Caleb’s happiness and tragedies.

Geraldine Brooks has done it again.  This is a lively, warm, and very interesting book.  $33

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