Book Review – Caleb’s Crossing

One of my initial intentions when starting this blog was to talk about books, which I have done a little here and here, but not to the extent I had planned.  Sadly this is because I simply have not been reading as much as I would like to.  I think I need just two extra hours in the day and I would be able to achieve everything I want to and still have a little down time to pick up a book each evening.  As it is, I fall into bed somewhere between ten and midnight, pick up my book and promptly fall asleep before finishing the page I opened to.  It’s extremely frustrating.  I’m used to reading a book every two weeks or so – especially when I was commuting to the city for work two days a week, that gave me three hours of pure reading time a week and was great at relaxing me before coming home to the mad house – so to have taken six weeks to finish my latest read seemed an age.

But, I loved it.  Caleb’s Crossing, by Geraldine Brooks, is the latest in a long line of historic fiction (my favourite kind) by this author.  Other titles worth mentioning are March, People of the Book and my personal pick, Year of Wonders.  This one tells the story of a young girl, Bethia (great name too) as she grows up on a small island (now called Martha’s Vineyard) off the east coast of America in the early days of British colonisation.  Her father is a minister, determined to convert the local indigenous communities, including Caleb, with whom Bethia has a strong bond from childhood through to adulthood.  While the title refers to Caleb’s crossing from the life and beliefs of a native American to that of Christianity and British ways, it could just have easily been called Bethia’s Crossing.  She is an extremely intelligent and strong willed girl, and later woman, in a time when these characteristics are not desirable in females.  She survives several tragedies within her family and ends up indentured to a teacher who runs a school preparing young scholars for entry into Harvard.  Throughout her childhood and later at the school and university she finds devious ways of acquiring the learning and knowledge she craves (mostly through eavesdropping on the boys lessons).

What I most like about Brooks’ writing is her ability to use language to conjure up a time, not just a character or place.  I think this takes great talent, and a huge amount of research to get every small detail just so.  Bethia as narrator is poignant, direct and powerful and she encapsulates the life of a woman in this period so vividly.

For me, as a history teacher, this genre allows for pure escapism and Brooks is one of my favourite authors in it.  Unlike some historic fiction, there is nothing soap-opera-like or needlessly romantic in her writing.  At times her stories are brutal and disturbing, they don’t glorify the harshness of the time, but nor do they gloss over these details.  I enjoyed Caleb’s Crossing particularly because of its setting in early British settlement in America – having both studied and taught about this subject matter.  This is also where I read about the Three Sisters style of gardening, so it’s got an extra star from me just for that.

In all, this is certainly one I would recommend, particularly for those interested in American history (it is definitely fiction, but based on reality, particularly Caleb), or history in general.  Has anyone else read this one, or others by Geraldine Brooks?  What were your thoughts?

Finally I thought I would add a picture book of the week here as well after our most recent trip to the library.  Usually I just let Miss Two have free run of the books and pick her own, sneakily putting back any I don’t think are appropriate before we leave.  This method leads to some very interesting collections of books (sometimes all duds) and often little treasures that I would never have noticed.  Of course she always looks for Maisy, Aflie and Hairy McClary first.  This week from our collection my recommendation would go to Maggie’s Monkeys by Linda Sanders-Wells.  It’s a lovely story of a little girl (Maggie) with a vivid imagination and a brother who is at first skeptical and then accepting (and wonderfully protective) of his sister and her stories of pink polar monkeys living in their refrigerator.  I loved it especially for the relationship between Maggie and her two siblings.

The pile of books I have waiting to be read is quite overwhelming at the moment, but I think next I will start a couple of Mary Poppins books I’ve borrowed from a friend.  Now there’s a bit of retro reading for you.  They should also be light and easy reads, and so increase my feeling of accomplishment in getting through the pile.

I’d love to hear what you’re all reading, or have read recently – good or bad.

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2 Responses to Book Review – Caleb’s Crossing

  1. Liz says:

    Reading – that was something I did in another life – that one I had pre children….. Actually you are the 3rd person to recommend this book to me so perhaps I should actually try and make some time…. Kids books I read plenty of though – today my favourite was The Pigeon finds a Hot Dog by Mo Willems.

  2. Andrea says:

    Caleb’s Crossing sounds like a good read, will have to look out for it when next at the libary! You do a good review too!! At the moment I’m reading A Day in the life of Ancient Rome by Alberto Angela (one of the many books i brought home from italy) but the best book this year i have read (swapped in Siena) and i couldn’t put it down is Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder.
    True story of a young man who survives a civil war & genocide and arrives in New York with two hundred dollars, no english or contacts and how his life changes, amazing read!!
    Happy reading !

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