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.

Megha Majumdar – A Burning

Megha Majumdar – A Burning

Jivan has seized her chances in life. Having grown up in one of Kolkata’s slums, there was not much to expect, but an NGO enabled her to go to school, learn proper English and see how the middle classes live. Yet, after grade ten, she decides to get a job to support her old and ill parents. The newly earned money also offers luxuries she has never known, cigarettes and even a smartphone. One evening, she witnesses an attack at her local train station and soon after, leaves a comment on Facebook which is widely ignored. Yet, when the culprits cannot be traced, somebody else is needed to pay for the victims and thus, Jivan suddenly finds herself in prison. This can only be a mistake, she is innocent and will soon be free again. But she is totally mistaken there.

Megha Majumdar’s novel is a story about dreams and a better life. Her three protagonists, whose stories are told alternatingly, all have their respective dreams: Jivan wants to live like the middle classes, be able to afford enough food and offer herself some small luxuries. Her friend Lovely, a hijra, dreams of a career in film business and is willing to do everything to promote her career. Jivan’s former teacher PT Sir dreams of power which is unexpectedly provided to him – at the cost of somebody else, but who wouldn’t look for themselves first?

“All of them are ignoring me. The public is wanting blood. The media is wanting death.”

The novel works on several levels, at one end of the scale, there is the personal point of view, at the other end, the political. Looking at the first, we have Jivan and Lovely from the very bottom of the Indian society. They are both working hard and so do Jivan’s parents, nevertheless, they depend on the mercy of others to advance a bit in life. More often than that, they are hit by injustice and at times, beaten in the very sense of the word. It is a highly divided society in which everybody’s place is fixed, upwards mobility is not something to be achieved easily.

On the political level, we see PT Sir and the next big party who have perfected the election campaign in telling people what they want to hear and framing incidents for their own benefit. The individual does not play a role, only in so far as individual politicians want to gain more power and money. One corrupt party is replaced by the next and the novel does not provide the slightest hope of any improvement of the situation.

For the reader, it is quite obvious from the start where all is heading, nevertheless, it is heart-wrenching to follow the unfairness and injustice which are done to Jivan. A great development of the protagonists who are not fully to blame, their behaviour cannot simply be explained by the flaws of their characters, it is the society they live in and to which they simply have adapted to survive. A strong novel which is surely not to be missed.

Steve Cavanagh – TH1RT3EN

Steve-Cavanagh - Thirteen
Steve Cavanagh – Th1rt3en

It’s one of the biggest murder trials New York has seen for some time and all the country is waiting for actor Robert „Bobby“ Solomon to be convicted for the double murder of his girlfriend and her lover. Chances for Bobby are low, all the evidence is clearly against him: he was at the crime scene, blood all over, he left a finger print on a dollar note which was found on the victims, the murder weapon, a baseball bat, belongs to him and has his prints and blood of the victims all over. And he does not have an alibi for the time of the deed. Yet, there is another factor which will make sure that Bobby goes to jail: the murderer is on the jury. But, the killer didn’t anticipate Eddie Flynn, Bobby’s defence attorney, who looked his client in the eyes and saw that this man is innocent. So there must be someone else to blame. Let the game begin.

Steve Cavanagh’s legal crime novel has a rather slow start, but then it takes up pace and suddenly you can only wonder what unfolds in front of you. A brilliant puzzle and fight between two highly intelligent combatants who quickly combine facts and spectacularly try to outplay the enemy. “Th1rt3en” is the fourth novel of the Eddie Flynn series which can also be read without knowledge of the preceding books. For the third of the series, “The Liar”, Steve Cavanagh was awarded the Crime Writers Association Gold Dagger in 2018.

The novel clearly lives on the fight between the killer and the lawyer. Both are highly interesting characters and certainly equal in many respects. On the one hand, Joshua Kane who seems to have perfected crime and taken killing to a higher level. It is brilliant how he proceeds and does not only care about the murder itself but also about what follows after. On the other hand, it seems as if nothing can stop Eddie Flynn, his sharp intellect guarantees clever tactical manoeuvres and seeing things that other might overlook.

It’s the classic fight of good versus evil integrated in a complex story. When the actual trial starts, the plot accelerates and suspense rises enormously. It is fascinating to follow the story line and see how all pieces finally fall into places. Even though there are some blunt and brutal murders, “TH1RT3EN” is a rather demanding and intellectual thriller that demands all your attention and concentration, something I highly appreciate.