Rivka Galchen – Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch

Rivka Galchen – Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch

Even though the Middle Ages are over, superstition and strange beliefs are still widespread among people. Thus, in 1615, Katharina Kepler finds herself accused of witchcraft by the people of her hometown of Leonberg in southern Germany. Times are hard, the Plague is spreading the Thirty Years’ War has just begun and somebody must be blamed for all the things happening. Katharina is an elderly widow, illiterate and mother of the astronomer Johannes Kepler. She leads a simple life, attending to her cow Chamomile. One day, however, Ursula Reinbold, accuses her of witchcraft, having offered a bitter drink which allegedly poisoned her, and surprisingly, the court not only listens but more and more people come forwards with testimonies of Katharina’s ill-doing. Only her neighbour, old Simon, who prefers to keep to himself, stands by her side.

Rivka Galchen’s story is based on a true story, Johannes Kepler’s mother was a healer and herbalist and arrested for witchcraft. The famous son stopped his research in planetary motion to defend his mother. Not only Katharina became victim of this kind of accusation, the town’s advocate Lutherus Einhorn accused 15 women in one trial and had executed eight of them in 1615.

At first, Katharina doesn’t take the accusation seriously, it is just talk for her, until she is put to prison and has to learn that more and more people come forward with other stories which seem to underline her doing black magic. She tries to counter the attack by accusing Ursula and her husband of slander, yet, her own case vanishes somewhere in the depth of local jurisprudence.

“We all know she’s a witch. We’ve always know. The matter of how we came to know is simple – we already knew.”

The accusations brought forward rage from poisoning, causing lameness, several deaths, injuring a woman’s foot, harming numerous people and animals – a long list which is getting more and more absurd during the story. I liked the interrogations of the inhabitants since they show not only the superstition they fall prey to, but also the dynamics of a small town which turns against one woman. Everything ill that has ever happened is simply attributed to Katharina. The allegations are so ridiculous that you could laugh weren’t it for Katharina’s case and the fact that the people’s testimonies seem to be believed.

Even though the plot is based on a well-documented historical case, you can see more or less the same thing happening today. It is not the small town anymore, but the world wide web in which often just one single person brings forward an accusation – no need for proof anymore – and masses jump on the bandwagon and have their twitter trial even before the issue is sorted out. It doesn’t matter if the accused is later discharged or not, the only thing that counts is public opinion which is quick at passing a sentence.

An entertaining read which outlines the dark sides of human nature – envy, greed, malicious gossip – and the danger that might come from it.

Megan Hunter – The Harpy

Megan Hunter – The Harpy

Lucy is a loving wife and mother of two small boys. Even though she at times regrets not having finished her doctorate, her life is quite close to perfect, at least from the outside. Until she gets a voice message informing her of her husband Jake’s affair with his colleague. Jake immediately admits everything, yet, it wasn’t a single misstep, but actually three. They agree not to give up everything they have built up and Lucy is allowed to hurt him three times, too. What he does not know is that forever, she has been fascinated by harpies, the mythological creatures symbolising the underworld and evil. Thus, Lucy’s revenge is not small but a thoroughly made-up, destructive plan of vengeance.

A couple of years ago, I read Megan Hunter’s post-apocalyptic debut “The End We Start From” and liked it a lot, thus I was eager to read her latest novel “The Harpy” which did more than fulfil my expectations. The atmosphere is burning, the idea of the dreadful mythological creatures always looming over the action. Quite often, the harpy is used to depreciate a nasty woman. Lucy can be considered nasty in what she does, however, the betrayal she has to endure is no less harmful.

Of course, Lucy’s revenge is the central aspect of the plot. Yet, it is not just their marriage that is under scrutiny, the whole circle Lucy and Jake move in comes to a closer inspection. Superficial friendships which end immediately end when someone does not comply with the unwritten rules, feigned sympathy and kindness – isn’t this world an awful one to live in? Plus the reduction of an intelligent woman to caring mother who becomes invisible as a woman and is considered little more than a domestic worker for the family, a life surely man find themselves in involuntarily.

From a psychological point of view, the novel is also quite interesting, depicting Lucy’s transformation from loving housewife to independent and reckless avenging angel. She frees herself from the clichés she has lived to so long and goes beyond all boundaries. A beautifully written brilliant novel that I enjoyed thoroughly.