Reader's Comments
Caleb's Crossing By Geradine Brooks

Caleb’s Crossing

By Geraldine Brooks

PBR Book Review:

This is a well written, engrossing work of historical fiction, meticulously researched and well plotted. In this book Geraldine Brooks gives us two likable but diverse characters and some fascinating information on the early years of Harvard. Bethia is the daughter of a Puritan minister. Through her we are introduced to the prejudice against females and the pressures of having strong religious beliefs. These deeply rooted beliefs cause her much angst and create conflict and guilt influencing her important life decisions. We also witness the limitations on life choices available to her in this era. The real life character Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck, the first Native American to graduate from Harvard is the inspiration for this book. His journey shows the barriers and discrimination against his people and the sacrifice necessary to receive his college education. It’s eye opening to read of Harvard only 30 years into its existence and compare to the Harvard we know today. Brooks gives us insight into the customs of the Wampanoag tribe and early Colonial history. Geraldine Brooks is the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for her 2005 book “March”

Book Club Talking Points:

Talking Points: Bethia, a Puritan and Calab a Native American, are two inspirational characters not just for their trials but for demonstrating the bonds of friendship, the conviction of religious beliefs and the strength of the human spirit. For different reasons each is discriminated against and each must struggle with the inner turmoil that goes hand and hand with being receptive to new ideas in a rigid environment. Recommend for book clubs that enjoy serious Historical fiction or have an interest in the Puritans or Native Americans

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*Author Website: http://www.geraldinebrooks.com/

*Other Books by Same Author: "Perople of the Book", Year Of Wonders", "March", "Nine Parts of Desire"The Hidden world of Islamic Women", "Foreigh Correspondence: A Pen Pal's Journey from Down Under To All Over"

*Discussion Questions



1. In discussing the purchase of the island from the Wampanoag, Bethia's father says, "some now say that [the sonquem] did not fully understand that we meant to keep the land from them forever. Be that as it may, what's done is done and it was done lawfully" (p. 9). Do you agree with his opinion?

2. With that in mind, examine Caleb's view of the settlers on p. 143 – 144. Why does he say that the sound of their "boots, boots, and more boots" (p. 143) moved him to cross cultures and adopt Christianity? Contrast this with Tequamuck's reaction to the settlers' arrival (p. 295). Placed in their situation, what would you have felt?

3. Look at Bethia's discussion of the question "Who are we?" at the top of p. 57. Of the options that she offers, which seems most true to you? Are there other options you would add to her list?

4. On p. 285, Joseph Dudley discusses the philosophical question of the Golden Mean, which suggests that the ideal behavior is the middle point between extremes. But he then goes on to argue against this belief, stating that, in fact, there is no middle point between extremes such as "good and evil, truth and falsehood." Which perspective do you agree with?

5. Compared with those in her community, Bethia is remarkably unprejudiced in her view of the Wampanoag. Did you grow up surrounded by prejudices you disagreed with? How did this affect you? Conversely, did you have prejudices in your youth that you've since overcome?

6. Bethia sees her mother's silence as a great strength and tool in dealing with society, particularly as a woman in a male-dominated culture. However, while Bethia repeatedly tries to emulate this behavior, she's often overcome by her own passionate opinions. Find an example where Bethia's boldness in stating her mind is a good thing, and an example where it brings her trouble. Have you ever wished you had spoken when instead you stayed quiet—or wished you had stayed quiet instead of having spoken your mind?

7. The Wampanoag and the Puritans have very different views on raising children. Describe the differences you see between the two and which method you believe is healthier. Are Caleb and Bethia the typical product of their respective societies?

8. Bethia acknowledges that her own religion could seem as crazy to Caleb as his does to her: "Of course, I thought it all outlandish. But… it came to me that our story of a burning bush and a parted sea might also seem fabulous, to one not raised up knowing it was true" (p. 35). In the end, Caleb does come to accept Bethia's religion, and she develops a kinder attitude toward him. Have you or anyone you know ever converted

Book Summary


Viking Adult-May 3, 2011-320 pages-ISBN-10: 0670021040
Living in the isolated Puritan settlement of Great Harbor on Martha's Vineyard, Bethia Mayfield, the bright young daughter of the local minister, balances her strict religion with a passionate love of nature and a growing curiosity about the culture of the Wampanoag tribe that populates the island. When Bethia secretly strikes up a friendship with a young Wampanoag named Caleb, she unknowingly begins a journey that will shape her life. Intelligent, independent, and kind, Bethia is the narrator and the heart of Geraldine Brooks's stunning new novel, Caleb's Crossing, the story of Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk, who in 1665 became the very first Native American to graduate from Harvard.

Torn between her commitment to her religion and her family and her longing for freedom and intellectual fulfillment, Bethia is a young woman built of contradictory desires. With Caleb, she finds an escape from her stern and pious community in which women are expected to be silent and subservient, the community that denies Bethia an education simply because of her gender. But for all the freedom that Caleb inspires in her, he struggles to understand her dogged sense of duty and deference. Even as he chooses to adopt her religion, he encourages her to rebel and questions the obedience at the root of her faith.

Their relationship is soon upended as Caleb comes to live with Bethia's family so that he can be groomed to enter a preparatory school in Cambridge along with her elder brother, Makepeace. Living under the same roof yet forced to keep their earlier friendship hidden, Bethia watches Caleb blossom under the tutelage she so craves. When a tragedy befalls the Mayfield family, Makepeace's hope for entering Harvard suddenly rests on Bethia's shoulders, demanding that she sacrifice her pride and her freedom to make his education possible. The shifting boundaries of Bethia's complex and profound relationship with Caleb change with their arrival together in Cambridge; as he enters school, Bethia becomes an indentured servant, and while their lives move in markedly different directions, their friendship endures.

Caleb's Crossing follows Bethia and Caleb from Grand Harbor to Cambridge and beyond, charting not only their crossing of the stretch of ocean between island and mainland but of the vast—and sometimes unbridgeable—expanse between Native American and white settler, between pagan and Christian, and between male and female. Brooks has built a world of emotion, struggle, and natural beauty in which the balance between the traditions of the past and the potential of the future are captured in the lives of two young friends.
 
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