The plague is spreading.
The hundred year war is beginning.
Katharina Kepler is believed to be a witch.
The startling, witty, highly anticipated second novel from the critically acclaimed author of Atmospheric Disturbances.
The story begins in 1618, in the German duchy of Württemberg. Plague is spreading. The Thirty Years' War has begun, and fear and suspicion are in the air throughout the Holy Roman Empire. In the small town of Leonberg, Katharina Kepler is accused of being a witch.
Katharina is an illiterate widow, known by her neighbors for her herbal remedies and the success of her children, including her eldest, Johannes, who is the Imperial Mathematician and renowned author of the laws of planetary motion. It's enough to make anyone jealous, and Katharina has done herself no favors by being out and about and in everyone's business.
So when the deranged and insipid Ursula Reinbold (or as Katharina calls her, the Werewolf) accuses Katharina of offering her a bitter, witchy drink that has made her ill, Katharina is in trouble. Her scientist son must turn his attention from the music of the spheres to the job of defending his mother. Facing the threat of financial ruin, torture, and even execution, Katharina tells her side of the story to her friend and next-door neighbor Simon, a reclusive widower imperiled by his own secrets.
Drawing on real historical documents but infused with the intensity of imagination, sly humor, and intellectual fire for which Rivka Galchen is known, Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch will both provoke and entertain. The story of how a community becomes implicated in collective aggression and hysterical fear is a tale for our time. Galchen's bold new novel touchingly illuminates a society and a family undone by superstition, the state, and the mortal convulsions of history.
About the author
Rivka Galchen received her MD from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, having spent a year in South America working on public health issues. Galchen completed her MFA at Columbia University, where she was a Robert Bingham Fellow. Her essay on the Many Worlds Interpretation of quantum mechanics was published in The Believer, and she is the recipient of a 2006 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award. Galchen lives in New York City. She is the author of the novel Atmospheric Disturbances.
Galchen's captivating latest (after the children's adventure Rat Rule 79) follows an illiterate widow as she confronts accusations of being a witch in 1618 Germany. As soldiers and plague spread across the Holy Roman Empire at the start of the Thirty Years' War, 74-year-old Katharina Kepler's own troubles play out on a grand scale after her neighbor (whom Katharina calls "the Werewolf") accuses Katharina of poisoning her and manages to convince others that they, too, have been afflicted or targeted by Katharina's witchcraft. Katharina must fight to clear her name with the help of her three children her youngest son, a bullheaded pewter guildsman; her daughter, a kindly pastor's wife; and her eldest son, an expert in horoscopes who works as the Imperial Mathematician and her kindly, quiet neighbor Simon, who documents Katharina's case for posterity and risks his own reputation by serving as Katharina's guardian in court. Mesmerizing details abound, such as the torture inflicted on those accused of witchcraft, and the herbal remedies Katharina relies upon. Galchen portrays her characters as complicated and full of wit as they face down the cruelties dealt to them (a man called "the Cabbage," demanding Katharina release a curse on his sister, threatens her with a "vain sword... something a nobleman might commission and then reject at the last moment, leaving the sword maker in a bind"). This is a resounding delight. Agent: Bill Clegg, the Clegg Agency.
The author is a Canadian-born American physician and writer, who completed an MFA while at Medial School and is now adjunct professor in writing at Columbia University's School of Art. This is only her second novel. Her first, Atmospheric Disturbances (2008) won the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing in 2010 (The prize is awarded biennially). The winner of the 2008 Saroyan was The History of Love (2005) by Nicole Krauss. I mention this because The History of Love is the best novel I have read in the last 30 years.
It’s 1618 in the German duchy of Wurttemberg. The Holy Roman Empire is plagued with fear and suspicion. Why? Well, plague for starters. Then there’s Thirty Years War. Other stuff too. (To be fair, fear and suspicion were pretty much par for the course in the Holy Roman Empire, and most other places in Europe at the time.) Katharina is an ageing illiterate widow known locally for her herbal remedies and for how much she bangs on about her kids. In her defence, her eldest Johannes Kepler, is kind of big name in astronomy and mathematics. After a deranged local claims our gal gave her a bitter drink that turned her into a newt (no, sorry, that was Monty Python and The Holy Grail), sundry other locals start coming forward, or getting dragged forward, to tell their stories about her until, you guessed it, the powers that be conclude she must be a witch. Katharina tries to pooh-pooh it, but they took their witches seriously in 17th century Germany. Johannes has to set aside his important mathematical work to defend his Mom.
First person narrative by Katharina interposed with increasingly outlandish “official” witness statements that while slyly comedic now, would have been anything but back in the day.
Artful description of the evolution of suspicion and innuendo into hysterical fear and aggression involving family, community, and whole states, which have occurred with disturbing regularity throughout history, including our supposedly enlightened times. (#FakeNews)