Q&A with Geraldine Brooks, author of CALEB’S CROSSING
The publisher has provided permission to The Burton Review to post the following interview with author Geraldine Brooks. Geraldine is the author of several prize winning novels, such as March, and Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague.
A richly imagined new novel from the author of the New York Times bestseller, People of the Book.
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.
The novel is told through Bethia's point of view. What is the advantage to telling this story through her eyes? How would the book be different if Caleb were the narrator?
I was always intrigued by what brought English settlers to the island so early in the colonial period...they settled here in the 1640s. Living on an island is inconvenient enough even today; what prompted the Mayhews and their followers to put seven miles of treacherous ocean currents between them and the other English—to choose to live in a tiny settlement surrounded by some three thousand Wampanoags? The answer was unexpected and led me into a deeper exploration of island history
You bring Harvard College to life in vivid, often unpleasant detail. What surprised you most about this prestigious university's beginnings?
As with your previous books, you've managed to capture the voice of the period. You get the idiom, dialect, and cadence of the language of the day on paper. How did you do your research?
May 2011, Tiffany Smalley will follow in Caleb's footsteps and become only the second Vineyard Wampanoag to graduate from Harvard. Do you know if this will be celebrated?
Stay tuned to The Burton Review for the book review of Caleb's Crossing!!