Wednesday 26 January 2022

Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch

Finished January 24
Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch: A Novel by Rivka Galchen

This historical novel is based on real people and history. Johannes (Hans) Kepler, the astronomer, had long before left home and started his professional life by the beginning of this story. 
His mother Katharina Kepler is accused by a neighbour of being a witch. At first she thinks she should ignore it, and then she reconsiders as she understands that more people have heard of it, and she determines to speak out on her own behalf. She must have a legal guardian with her because as a woman she can't actually speak for herself. With her two sons, only one of whom is in the same town as her, struggling to make livings, she asks her neighbour, a man around her own age, to be that person. 
I found that relationship interesting as they'd had little to do with each other before then. We see them spending more time together and getting to know each better. 
It is a time of great uncertainty. The plague is still a threat and very soon the Thirty Years' War will begin. Hans makes a living in various ways, supporting his two children from his first marriage, and his second wife Susanna and young daughter Maruschl. Katerina's other son Christoph is a pewtersmith and lives near Katharina with his wife Gertrauta (Gertie) and daughter Agnes. He is worried about the effect her accusation will have on his business and ability to make a living. Her daughter Greta has married later than usual for those times, to a pastor, and soon into Katharina's ordeal they more to another town.
All three of Katharina's surviving children are supportive, and yet they or in Greta's case her husband, are worried about the stigma rubbing off onto them and their families. When she visits, she keeps her head low, and avoids interaction with friends and neighbours. At home, she becomes worried about what stories people are saying about her, and continues over many months to struggle to clear her name. 
Through the course of the book, we also learn about her past, her youth and her marriage, and why she now lives alone. We get a sense of the external world that she deals with, as well as her feelings and motivations. Katharina is a simple woman, who tends her garden, takes good care of her cow, and makes both food and remedies from plants she grows and gathers. She is illiterate, and requires someone, here Simon, to write her words for her. She is older and enjoys spending time with her young grandchildren, telling them stories, and playing with them. 
As this story unfolds, it becomes larger, representing the story of others falsely accused, and women's lower position in many eras. We see how it affects her community and her independence. 
A fascinating tale, well-researched. 

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