Sunday, March 22, 2015

465 (2015 #22). Caleb's Crossing

by Geraldine Brooks,
read by Jennifer Ehle

The Caleb in the title of this book was a real person - Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck, the first Native American to graduate from Harvard University, in 1665.  He was a member of the Wampanoag tribe on what is now Martha's Vineyard island off Massachusetts.

The narrator of the story, though, is the completely fictional Bethia Mayfield (although her grandfather, father, and brother are based on the real Thomas Mayhew and his son and grandson). Bethia is the daughter of a minister working to convert the Wampanoag, and Caleb becomes his star pupil.  Unbeknownst to him, though, Bethia and Caleb met many years earlier, and taught each other their languages.

For me, Bethia was a fascinating character, embodying the restrictions of women of that era.  For example, although she was smarter than her brother, she could not be taught beyond the bare minimum (how to read), and picks up most of her knowledge (of Latin, Greek, Hebrew, history) by eavesdropping.  Her life was incredibly hard, especially when her grandfather (after her father's death) indentures her as a servant at the "prep school" her brother is sent to in his attempt to enter Harvard, in exchange for his tuition.

After listening to a few discs, I could not take actress Jennifer Ehle, the reader of the audiobook, any longer. She e-nun-ci-a-ted ev-er-y sing-le syl-la-ble, and it was starting to drive me crazy!  I think perhaps she was trying to "be" Bethia, and perhaps felt the character would have spoken that way in the late 1660s, but I found it annoying after a while.  Bethia's use of now-archaic words ("salvages" for "savages," for example) and phrasing appropriate for both the time period and Puritan characters was enough, the extra enunciation was too much and unnecessary.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[The audiobook and a hardbound copy were borrowed from and returned to my university library and my local public library respectively.]

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