January 19, 2014
Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks (Review)
Author: Brooks, Geraldine
First published: 2011
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One astonishing fact inspired this book: in 1665 one Caleb became the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College. 1665! Amazing, right? How did it happen? Well, apparently, back then when religiousness was really crazy, natives were encouraged and bullied to become Christians. To that end, a sponsorship was organised to pay and provide for those Indians who wanted to get education in hope of their help in advancing religion further. They were to have a profound brainwashing in college and then to go preach to their fellow countrymen. Of course, it was very difficult for them, because apart from mastering English, they had to excel in Latin, Greek and Hebrew, they had to endure not only the hardships of living in a poor-provided establishment which was Harvard, but also the contempt of the Englishmen and distrust and sometimes hate of the fellow natives. But some of them willingly pursued this course in hopes of obtaining means to protect their people from the advancing "civilization".
It's an amazingly interesting topic, but not much is known about it, unfortunately. That's why, I reckon, although the novel does tell Caleb's story, it's not in the focus of the narrative. Instead, everything the reader sees is from the point of view of Bethia, a daughter of a missioner, who meets Caleb when they are both children and introduces him to her world. She is the center of the novel, and she is a great character! She is quicker and cleverer than her brother and is eager to learn, but, being a woman, is not allowed to do so. Her father tells her: "I would do you no favor if I were to send you to your husband with a mind honed to find fault in his every argument or to better his in every particular." So she resorts to eavesdropping on her brother's lessons and then agrees to go into service in a prep school just to continue overhearing stuff. Apart from her eagerness to learn, she is also interested in the Indian culture. Instead of shunning from their religion and beliefs as from the "work of Devil", she tries to understand it, and that's why her friendship with Caleb is possible.
Caleb's Crossing is very well researched, and it was very interesting to read about the early settlements, communication with the natives and the towns and universities of that time. The ugliness of the treatment of women and the Indians (and especially Indian women) is not smoothed, and the state of the medicine is really horrifying. Science also leaves much to be desired, as it was very mixed with and dependent on religion, and pretty useless for the most part.
As for the style of the novel, it is written in a form of Bethia's diaries, and I enjoyed the flow of her writing, which draws one into the story and doesn't let go.
In my book:
A very decent historical fiction book, with amazing characters and a captivating story.
The book is the first choice for Plagues Witches and War: The World of Historical Fiction Book Club, and I'm really happy I've joined it!