Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks
Brooks has once again charmed us back into a century we thought we’d never see again with this story of 17th century settlers to the island of Martha’s Vineyard off the coast of Massachusetts. The lush descriptions of a wild and wind-swept coast and her descriptions of Harvard College and Cambridge resonate like a memory. Her use of language is so particular, formal, and historically correct, that one feels it a foreign tongue, strange to hear and awkward to speak. But with time one thanks the author for making the effort, for it becomes one with the story—that odd formality, the strange manners, the strong religious cant.
Our narrator, a minister’s daughter, tells of one native resident of that island upon which she settled with her family and to whom she has given the English name Caleb. One would think the language of the time too restrictive to describe the wonders of that superlative man’s contours, but we come away with an abiding desire to see and touch that countenance. But the heart and experiences of our narrator is truly the center of this novel, and we see her start as a modest young girl slow to speak in company to an outspoken woman, educated the only way possible at the time: by listening at the door of the buttery as she completed her chores.
Brooks gives us a fictional story based on a real event in which there is a sweet and enduring but unrequited love that feels most contemporary. This is a great story for high school booklists, especially those summer lists before school begins. It entirely involves the readers’ sense of justice and resurrects a curiosity about the past that lies buried in the breast of most of us. And the descriptions of the northeast coast and its fragrances are almost as good as going there.
I listened to the Penguin Audio version of this book, read brilliantly and with deep cognition and clear tone by Jennifer Ehle.
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