Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Caleb's Crossing

  Isn't this a beautiful cover?
  This novel begins on Martha's Vineyard in1660.
Because I loved "The Scarlet Letter", I thought this book would also be interesting.
The language was a little challenging, but attempted to take you back to those days.

     Inspiration for the story (actual fact):
In 1665, a young man from Martha's Vineyard
 became the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College. 

  Although the novel is the story of Caleb, the son of a native chief, it is told through the eyes of Bethia, the daughter of a minister who hopes to convert the native population to Christianity.  She forms a clandestine friendship with Caleb and eventually follows him to Harvard, soaking up as much learning as she can while working as an indentured servant to the schoolmaster.  And this learning includes Latin, Greek, and Hebrew!  And she absorbs this while working in the adjoining buttery and eavesdropping!  A little unbelievable?

  I appreciated the view of the Puritan life, although there were many words that needed to be looked up- words that are not in use any more.  I did, though, enjoy the way they spoke.  And I enjoyed Bethia's character, even though it may be a little far-fetched.  While raised strictly Puritan, she had a great hunger for knowledge and a spiritual dilemma, as well. 

   Historical figures were mentioned in the novel.  Anne Hutchison was one.  She was the mother of 15, whose religious convictions were at odds with the Puritan church.  She had a lot of followers, but in 1643, she was massacred along with 14 of her children.  She is now honored in Massachusetts as a "courageous exponent of civil liberty and religious toleration".

   With the background of the Puritan, rigid, religious beliefs, you get glimpses of human connections that surmount the differences.  This is the kind of book that I love.  There are examples of extreme rigidity, but also complete acceptance and compassion for everyone.

  The title "Caleb's Crossing" is poignant.  Caleb crossed into the Puritan world- but was he really crossing, or just taking advantage of the other world?

  The combination of fact and fiction always interests me and I wondered about the books that would be available.  I discovered that the Puritans brought a printing press with them in 1638, where they printed religious texts.  One of them was a hymn book.  "The Bay Psalm Book" had about 300 pages and lots of errors, with words only - no music.  There were 1700 copies printed.  Only 11 copies remain today.  One of these copies was just auctioned at Sotheby's for 14.2 million dollars!

I have read two other books by Geraldine Brooks:
Geraldine was born in Australia, now living on Martha's Vineyard.  
"Nine Parts of Desire" is a disturbing book about women in the Middle East.  The title comes from a quote by Muhammad's son-in-law: "Almighty God created sexual desire in ten parts; then he gave nine parts to women and one to man."
It actually appears that men feel they cannot control themselves around women and so the women must not show any skin, go out in public, drive a car, speak in public, etc. etc.  Disturbing!
"March" is a really interesting book using a character in Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women".  The father, Mr. March has gone to war- actually he is a chaplain in the civil war, but has spiritual torment about what he experiences there.  This book won the Pulitzer Prize in 2006.



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