Rewriting History

Genre: Historical Fiction

Author: Geraldine Brooks

Publisher: Viking Adult

Year: 2011

RRP: $26.95

Geraldine Brooks falls into that Australian pool of talent who have become expats, left and gone on to greater things. Her latest novel Caleb’s Crossing, looks sure to be another one of those successes she can add to her list.

The novel is loosely woven from fact and revolves around Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk, the first native American graduate of Harvard, who astoundingly completed his degree in 1665- a mere 30 years after Harvard’s establishment and 300 before the civil rights movement.

Its not the first time that Brooks has taken pieces of American history as the inspiration for her books.  In 2006 she won a Pulitzer prize for fiction for her novel March, a retelling of the American classic novel Little Women told from the perspective of the March girls’s father, who goes to fight in the American Civil War.

This time however, Brooks takes this single thread of history and weaves an entirely fictional story around it. It’s told from the perspective of Bethia Mayfield, a curious pioneer girl growing up amid puritans, who encounters Caleb after secretly stealing away to the beach.

The two form a hidden friendship as Bethia’s pioneering father begins trying to convert Caleb’s tribe, the Wampanoag, to the western way of living- and part of this project is the education of Caleb. The young boy becomes drawn and torn between the two cultures as Bethia watches on, desperate for the kind of education that is for her impossible because of her gender.

Set in Martha’s Village where Brooks resides with her family, the historical fiction novel is an exploration of place, the past and the imagination: as much about a deep affinity for history as it is love for the place that Brooks now calls home.

Caleb’s Crossing will be released in Australia on the 3rd of March.

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