Friday, June 1, 2012

Caleb's Crossing: Book Review

Geraldine Brooks's novel is a tour de force. She manages to write as one might in the late 1600s and early 1700s. She captures the voice of a young woman--at the end an elderly woman--in a way that can make readers appreciate and understand another time. The author's use of vocabulary that was common then, but obsolete now, will be frustrating at times to readers because many of these words simply are not only not used currently but are not found in standard dictionaries. Still, Brooks's command of the language of then demonstrated how immersed she had become in the time and how careful she was to depict these times accurately. She also included events of the era which were essential to describe in order to explain the characters' decisions. I confess to not knowing or remembering anything about Metacom's rebellion/King Philip's war even though I have been living in New England for over thirty years. In many ways, this book was a beautiful history. Her description of landing in Italy and how a developed city must have looked to someone from the New World was worth reading the whole book.

However, the book is misnamed and not as advertised. It is not about Caleb. The book is about Bethia. She is the only nuanced character in the book. Caleb and Joel are peripheral characters and stick figures as is the grandfather, native americans, and the Cambridge characters. The father and Makepeace are multidimensional, but the point is that the book is allegedly about the crossing over of Caleb from native american culture to the other side. And while he is in the book, his journey is not central to it. The book is a remarkable depiction of the life and tribulations of a brilliant and courageous woman trapped in an era when brilliant women were suffocated by conventional values. It is not about Caleb's Crossing. It is more about how impossible it was for Bethia to cross over

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