Here is the blurb:
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.
In the conversation, the author touched on the idea of the actual history of Caleb going to Harvard being the "slender scaffold" that she built her story around, and about how the story that she wrote around this scaffold becoming the structure of the novel. She also talked about how she needed a first person voice as her narrator who tells the reader Caleb's story rather than using his voice. One of the reasons for his was partially out of respect in that she could not necessarily understand what it would have been like for a young native American man who was fluent enough in Latin and Greek to be able to meet the rigorous requirements that had to be met in order to be accepted to Harvard.
It always gave her an opportunity to share a story about how young women would have to snatch whatever learning they could however they could due to the fact that it was generally believed that it was bad for women to have book learning. Brooks talked about how this part of the story was inspired by a young girl from Afghanistan who used to sit on the roof of her house to listen to the school next year after girls were banned from school. (You can hear more about this aspect of Bethia's character in this reading)
It was fascinating to hear the discussion about the Wamponaog people, in particular about how their language was lost and then was bought back to life and about how the tribe forms such an important part of life on Martha's Vineyard today. She also shared with us the story about how it was that she came to live on Martha's Vineyard, and how that journey actually started way back when she was a rabid Star Trek fan as a youth. It was also great to hear exactly how some of the names should be pronounced.
While I enjoyed the whole night, which was held in one of the historical churches in Melbourne*, the highlight for me was really when the audience got to ask questions, and one lady started her question with the statement "I have a problem with you and the ending of Year of Wonders" and proceeded to talk about how she loved the whole of the book until getting to the completely improbably ending. This is completely my experience with Year of Wonders - loved the whole book but then there was that ending! I suspect that Geraldine Brooks might have heard this a few times before, but she took the time to explain that the ending that she gave to that book was actually based on a true story. She then went on to talk about the journeys that some of the more adventurous ladies had taken in the 17th century. Whilst I suspect that she possibly needs to make this clearer in her afterword if that is ever going to be revised, hearing that the ending was something that is based in fact and not just something improbably that she made up may just have changed my perception of that ending!
Luckily we were relatively close to the front of the audience and so it wasn't a long wait to get my copy of Caleb's Crossing signed. Now I just need to find time to read it!
*I always feel like I should clarify when I mention something historical here. The church we were in last night was found in 1843, which was only 5 years after the colony of Melbourne was founded, so that's historical to us!