Geraldine Brooks, 2011
Penguin Group USA
Once again, Geraldine Brooks takes a remarkable shard of history and brings it to vivid life.
In 1665, a young man from Martha's Vineyard became the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College. Upon this slender factual scaffold, Brooks has created a luminous tale of love and faith, magic and adventure.
The narrator of Caleb's Crossing is Bethia Mayfield, growing up in the tiny settlement of Great Harbor amid a small band of pioneers and Puritans. Restless and curious, she yearns after an education that is closed to her by her sex. As often as she can, she slips away to explore the island's glistening beaches and observe its native Wampanoag inhabitants.
At twelve, she encounters Caleb, the young son of a chieftain, and the two forge a tentative secret friendship that draws each into the alien world of the other. Bethia's minister father tries to convert the Wampanoag, awakening the wrath of the tribe's shaman, against whose magic he must test his own beliefs. One of his projects becomes the education of Caleb, and a year later, Caleb is in Cambridge, studying Latin and Greek among the colonial elite. There, Bethia finds herself reluctantly indentured as a housekeeper and can closely observe Caleb's crossing of cultures.
Like Brooks's beloved narrator Anna in Year of Wonders, Bethia proves an emotionally irresistible guide to the wilds of Martha's Vineyard and the intimate spaces of the human heart. Evocative and utterly absorbing, Caleb's Crossing further establishes Brooks's place as one of our most acclaimed novelists. (From the publisher.)
• Birth—September 14, 1955
• Raised—Ashfield, New South Wales, Australia
• Education—B.A., Sydney University; M.A. Columbia University (USA)
• Awards—Pulitzer Prize
• Currently—lives in Virginia, USA
Geraldine Brooks s an Australian American journalist and author whose 2005 novel, March, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. While retaining her Australian passport, she became an United States citizen in 2002.
A native of Sydney, Geraldine Brooks grew up in its inner-west suburb of Ashfield, where she attended Bethlehem College, a secondary school for girls, and the University of Sydney.
Following graduation, she became a rookie reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald and, after winning a Greg Shackleton Memorial Scholarship, moved to New York City in the United States, completing a Master's at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 1983. The following year, she married American journalist Tony Horwitz in the Southern France village of Tourrettes-sur-Loup and converted to his religion, Judaism.
As a foreign correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, she covered crises in Africa, the Balkans, and the Middle East, with the stories from the Persian Gulf which she and her husband reported in 1990, receiving the Overseas Press Club's Hal Boyle Award for "Best Newspaper or Wire Service Reporting from Abroad." In 2006, she was awarded a fellowship at Harvard University's Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.
Brooks's first book, Nine Parts of Desire (1994), based on her experiences among Muslim women in the Middle East, was an international bestseller, translated into 17 languages. Foreign Correspondence: A Pen Pal's Journey from Down Under to All Over (1997), which won the Nita Kibble Literary Award for women's writing, was a memoir and travel adventure about a childhood enriched by penpals from around the world, and her adult quest to find them.
Her first novel, Year of Wonders, published in 2001, became an international bestseller. Set in 1666, the story depicts a young woman's battle to save fellow villagers as well as her own soul when the bubonic plague suddenly strikes her small Derbyshire village of Eyam.
Her next novel, March (2005), was inspired by her fondness for Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, which her mother had given her. To connect that memorable reading experience to her new status in 2002 as an American citizen, she researched the Civil War historical setting of Little Women and decided to create a chronicle of wartime service for the "absent father" of the March girls.
Some aspects of this chronicle were informed by the life and philosophical writings of the Alcott family patriarch, Amos Bronson Alcott, whom she profiled under the title "Orpheus at the Plow", in the 10 January 2005 issue of The New Yorker, a month before March was published. The parallel novel was generally well received by the critics. It was selected in December 2005 selection by the Washington Post as one of the five best fiction works published that year. In April 2006, it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
In her next novel, People of the Book (2008), Brooks explored a fictionalized history of the Sarajevo Haggadah. This novel was inspired by her reporting (for The New Yorker) of human interest stories emerging in the aftermath of the 1991–95 breakup of Yugoslavia. The novel won both the Australian Book of the Year Award and the Australian Literary Fiction Award in 2008.
Her 2011 novel Caleb's Crossing is inspired by the life of Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk, a Wampanoag convert to Christianity who was the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College, an achievement of the seventeenth century.
Her next work, The Secret Chord (2015) is a historical novel based on the life of the biblical King David in the period of the Second Iron Age.
2006 - Pulitzer Prize for March
2008 - Australian Publishers Association's Fiction Book of the Year for People of the Book
2009 - Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award
2010 - Dayton Literary Peace Prize Lifetime Achievement Award
(From Wikipedia. Retrieved 10/14/2015.)
Geraldine Brooks, once a foreign correspondent for the Wall Street Journal and more recently a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist…writes about early America the same way she wrote about Sarajevo and the Middle East, which is to say very well…[Bethia's] a fabulously engaging narrator.
Pulitzer Prize winner Brooks (for March) delivers a splendid historical inspired by Caleb Cheeshahteaumauck, the first Native American to graduate from Harvard. Brooks brings the 1660s to life with evocative period detail, intriguing characters, and a compelling story narrated.
[L]uscious fiction in the capable hands of Pulitzer Prize winner Brooks (March).... Brooks offers a lyric and elevated narrative that effectively replicates the language of the era; she takes on the obvious issues of white arrogance, cultural difference, and the debased role of women without settling into jeremiad. The result is sweet and aching. —Barbara Hoffert.
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 religions? Have you grown interested in or accepting of religions or practices that initially struck you as strange or foreign?
9. When visiting Italy, Bethia writes of feeling overwhelmed by how different it was from her own home. Have you ever had a similar experience when traveling somewhere new? Did your travels make you see your own home in a new light? Does Bethia's visit to Italy change her beliefs or behavior?
10. Unlike Bethia, her son has no interest in traveling to older countries like Italy, saying that "everything there is done and built and finished. I like it here, where we can make and do for ourselves" (p. 274). Is this sense of independence and potential still true of the United States today?
11. Both Bethia and Caleb struggle against the limits and expectations placed on them by society. How are their experiences similar? How are they different? Who faces the greater challenge?
(Questions issued by publisher.)
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