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madbkwm

madbkwm

Caleb's Crossing - Geraldine Brooks I gave it four stars, so obviously I liked the book. I picked it up because I had enjoyed March so thoroughly and was looking forward to another well written piece of historical fiction. In that, I was not disappointed. This book is entertaining, (it felt) educational, and compelling.

However, I had a few beefs...the biggest of which is that this is NOT a book about the first Native American to matriculate from Harvard; it is (I thought quite often an anachronistic) feminist novel about a strong spirited and bright young woman. I liked Bethia (really who wouldn't) and I enjoyed the story, but I think the title and the hype are totally misleading. Caleb is Bethia's friend (and probably admirer) and his life is only peripheral to the novel which is purported to be Bethia's diary. In the afterword to the kindle edition that I read, Brooks supplies the factual information that she used to create the story; certainly she had little information on Caleb (and it seems that she disregarded some of that info by having Caleb life with and be tutored by Bethia's father rather than have him attend the prep school prior to Corlett's academy) and so it makes sense to create a story about someone else who might have encountered him. There was nothing wrong with the story (as I said was compelling and interesting and the main character was lovable), BUT it was NOT ABOUT CALEB.

My other big beef (as briefly mentioned above) was this misplaced sense of a woman's obligation. Certainly the late 1600s had women who balked at their lot in life (especially intelligent girls who were curious and wanted to learn), but they still understood society's expectations for them. I was floored that 12 year old Bethia was taken aback when her father first mentioned marriage. My understanding is that girls were commonly married off as soon as they were menstruating (11-14ish); my great grandmother was married at 13 (in Mississippi in 1920s) and certainly Mississippi is a backwards place but I can't believe that Massachuesetts of 1660 is more advanced. Then, the grandfather furthers this later when Bethia is 17; he is willing to marry her off but her father would have thought it too soon. What? At 17 Bethia was nearing the risk of spinsterhood. Women in this period were considered old maids after 20...right? Is my sense of history so far off here? After all, Anne is 12 when she comes to the school and she is already pregnant. I get that Brooks needed to have an older, single female character; Bethia needed to be mature enough to make her own decisions and see the world as an adult and she also..plotwise...need to be able to make her own decisions, but she certainly shouldn't have kept making a big deal of the fact that Bethia was too young to marry.

Coupled with this feeling that Brook's marriageable age was off was the ridiculousness of the idea the people married for love. While the passage "Those that marry where they affect not will affect where they marry not, and that is an occasion for sin" was witty and entertaining, it did not feel accurate. Marriage in this time was a duty, not a choice.

Overall a good read and certainly felt well researched, but a few things rubbed me the wrong way.