AUDIOBOOK REVIEW: Caleb’s Crossing (Geraldine Brooks, read by Jennifer Ehle, Bolinda)

It is possible to listen to this audiobook on a busy commute, while preparing dinner or washing the dishes. But it is preferable to listen to it as you would read the print book: without distraction. Geraldine Brooks’ fictionalised account of the first Native American to graduate from Harvard University has been reviewed in a previous issue of this magazine. It is a fascinating story, told through the eyes of Bethia Mayfield, the daughter of a minister and missionary to the native inhabitants of Martha’s Vineyard, and the childhood friend of Caleb, son of a local chieftain. This is as much a story of Bethia’s thwarted ambitions—she is denied an education owing to her sex—as it is of Caleb’s extraordinary academic achievement. The audiobook is narrated by Jennifer Ehle, best known for her role as Lizzie Bennet in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Her enunciation is impeccable, with subtle changes in rhythm and register to distinguish the characters in dialogue. Finally, one of the benefits of hearing (rather than reading) this story is Ehle’s assured pronunciation of the ‘Wampanoag’ language, including such names as Nobnocket, Nahnoso, Tequamuck and Nanaakomin. I know I would have stumbled over them myself.

Andrea Hanke is the editor of Bookseller+Publisher. This review first appeared in the July issue of Bookseller+Publisher. See Portia Lindsay’s book review of Caleb’s Crossing here.

Bestsellers this week

After two weeks at the top of the bestseller chart, the 11th Sookie Stackhouse novel Dead Reckoning (Charlain Harris, Hachette) has slipped to second place. Jamie’s 30-minute Meals (Jamie Oliver, Michael Joseph) has reclaimed first place on the bestseller chart and is first place in the fastest movers chart. In third place is Caleb’s Crossing (Geraldine Brooks, Fourth Estate), which continues to be popular in its sixth week on the top 10 bestseller chart. At the top of the highest new entries chart is James Patterson and Mark Pearson’s Private London (Century), about Dan Carter, head of the London office of Private, which is the largest and most technologically advanced investigation agency in the world–Weekly Book Newsletter.

Most mentioned this week

After winning the Man Booker Prize with The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga’s new novel Last Man in Tower (Atlantic Books) is a darkly comic story of greed and murder in the business capital of India, Mumbai. It is first place on the most mentioned chart this week. Re-appearing on the chart is Geraldine Brooks’ Caleb’s Crossing (Fourth Estate), based on the true story of a young man from Martha′s Vineyard who became the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College. Also appearing on the most mentioned chart is The Amateur Science of Love (Craig Sherborne, Text), Faces in the Clouds (Matt Nable, Viking) and Mercy (Jussi Adler-Olsen, Michael Joseph)–Media Extra.

Most mentioned this week

In 1665 a young man from Martha’s Vineyard became the first Native American to graduate from Harvard. This is the story of Caleb’s Crossing (Geraldine Brooks, Fourth Estate), which has appeared on the most mentioned chart over the past few weeks. A guest at the Sydney Writers’ Festival this week, Palestinian doctor Izzeldin Abuelaish lost three daughters in an Israeli tank attack, then wrote I Shall Not Hate (Bloomsbury). Kathy Lette’s How to Kill Your Husband (S&S), John Armstrong’s In Search of Civilization: Remaking a Tarnished Idea (Penguin), and Carolyn Burke’s No Regrets: The Life of Edith Piaf (Bloomsbury) also appear on the most mentioned chart–Media Extra.

Bestsellers this week

Caleb’s Crossing (Geraldine Brooks, HarperCollins), a novel inspired by Caleb Cheeshahteamauk, the first Native American to graduate from Harvard, is top of the fastest movers chart this week. The story explores the crossing of cultures through the unlikely friendship between Bethia, the strong-willed daughter of a minister, and Caleb, the son of the chieftain of the Wampanoag Tribe. Dead Reckoning, the eleventh book in the Sookie Stackhouse (True Blood) Series, is top of the highest new entries chart and third on the bestsellers chart this week. Jamie’s 30-minute Meals (Jamie Oliver, Michael Joseph), has moved up to the top of the bestsellers chart overtaking Sing you Home (Jodi Picoult, A&U), which is in second place–Weekly Book Newsletter.

Bestsellers this week

Leading up to Mother’s Day, Donna Hay’s cookbook, A Cook’s Guide (HarperCollins), compiled from a decade’s worth of the best ‘How to cook’ columns from the ‘Donna Hay Magazine’, is top of the fastest movers chart this week. Caleb’s Crossing (HarperCollins), a novel inspired by the story of the first Native American to graduate from Harvard, by Pulitzer winning author Geraldine Brooks, is at the top of the highest new entries chart, followed by Lars Kepler’s latest crime-fiction novel The Hypnotist (Blue Door). At home on the bestsellers chart for several weeks now, Jodie Picoult’s Sing You Home (A&U) is still in first place followed by another title often seen on the bestsellers chart in recent weeks, Michael Connelly’s The Fifth Witness (A&U)–Weekly Book Newsletter.

BOOK REVIEW: Caleb’s Crossing (Geraldine Brooks, Fourth Estate)

In 1665 a young man from Martha’s Vineyard became the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College. This fragment of history is the basis for the latest novel by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Geraldine Brooks. Caleb’s Crossing revolves around this young man’s spiritual and intellectual elevation in the eyes of English society. Bearing witness to this ‘civilising’ project is a minister’s daughter, Bethia Mayfield, who, on the basis of gender, is denied the education she craves. Bethia and Caleb—the son of a chieftain—meet in the wilds of Martha’s Vineyard as children and their clandestine but innocent encounters prove to be largely and mutually influential. Bethia teaches Caleb to read and strives to convert him to her Christian god, but he has just as much to offer her, as he shares island secrets and his native language. Caleb’s wide-eyed yet witty questioning of the Christian faith is compelling; their soulful and sweet exchanges are at the forefront of a quietly escalating tension between the native inhabitants and the gradually encroaching colonialists. As Bethia and Caleb grow older the divisions between them become more apparent; both are forced to subdue their natures in different ways. Bethia’s impending indenture as a housekeeper sparks a disagreement, which illuminates the diminishing options for both their futures. Such conversations between the pair evoke strong emotion and are a welcome release from the repression of Puritanism that dictates their behaviour. Reminiscent of Brooks’ debut novel Year of Wonders, wherein a bubonic plague outbreak is chronicled by an intelligent young maid, her latest fictional history sees Bethia grow from an uncertain minister’s daughter—striving for utter purity but plagued by doubt and failings—to a determined young woman who learns to exercise her intellect in whichever way she can. Bethia’s observation of Caleb’s triumphs and tribulations on the road to Harvard exposes both a warmth and distance between the pair. Her determination to document the role she plays in his journey bespeaks a desire for recognition. Caleb’s Crossing depicts the harshness of pioneer life and the rigidity of puritan values, tempered by the compassion and kindness of individuals. As the clash between cultures unfolds, loss of life, language and culture is a tragic inevitability that Bethia bears witness to on a personal level. Through the observations of a well-drawn protagonist Brooks conjures the disenfranchisement of an entire people.

Portia Lindsay works at the UNSW Bookshop in Sydney. This review first appeared in the April issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine.

Most mentioned this week

The first three books topped the most mentioned chart with equal mentions this week. Leslie Cannold’s The Book of Rachael (Text) continues to generate interest for reviewers and book buyers. Ever since foreign correspondent Geraldine Brooks turned to fiction with her novel March, fans have been eagerly awaiting more of her creative work. Caleb’s Crossing (Fourth Estate) is her latest novel, based on a real event: the year is 1665 and a young man from Martha’s Vineyard is the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College. Another book continuing to gain interest is David Foster Wallace’s posthumous novel The Pale King (Little, Brown) in which IRS employees at a regional office in Midwest USA consider the dullness of their existence. Carol Birch’s Jamrach’s Menagerie (Text) and Liz Byrski’s Last Chance Cafe (Macmillan) also featured on the most mentioned chart--Media Extra.