Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch

Farrar. Jun. 2021. 288p. ISBN 9780374280468. $26.
In this historical novel, New Yorker 20 Under 40 author Galchen (Atmospheric Disturbances) illustrates the precarious position of women in the early 17th century with regard to accusations of witchcraft. Set in Leonberg and Linz in the Holy Roman Empire, the novel follows Katharina Kepler and her struggles to respond to numerous fabrications and slanders. As the story progresses, interspersed with Katharina’s first-person accounts, testimonies from official proceedings, and accounts from her relatives, it finally dawns on the reader that this is the mother of the famous mathematician Johannes Kepler. Among the characters is a neighbor who serves as Katharina’s legal guardian because she is widowed, underscoring her lack of legal agency. The numerous false accusations based on hearsay, jealousy, and greed serve to illustrate the lack of power and basic human rights afforded to women in this troubled period.
VERDICT In this compelling look at women’s rights and the invented crime of witchcraft, the surprise is that the perseverance of the accused shifts the focus from victimhood to basic mortality and the challenge of dealing with death and illness before a coherent understanding of disease existed. Highly recommended for fans of history, science, and the human condition.
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