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

I maintain that I am not a witch, never have been a witch, am a relative to no witches. But from very early in life, I had enemies.

Katherina Kepler was the mother of Johannes Kepler, Imperial Mathematician and one of history’s most important astronomers. Johannes discovered three major laws of planetary motion but he had many achievements, based in astrology and theology. He understood optics, light, and why eyeglasses work. Johannes is a fascinating subject to research but it is the persecution his mother faced when she was swallowed by the hysteria of witchcraft that left its mark on him. It is also the subject of this historical fiction, based on facts.

1619 Leonberg, Germany Katherina Kepler has been summoned and accused of being a witch. She doesn’t take it seriously, an old woman like her who has lived through so much, and shrugging it off is only to her detriment. In fact, it’s laughable to even imagine that she has used her dark arts to curse silly Ursula Reinbold (who Katherina calls the werewolf). Ursula, whose misfortune, very illness is laid at Katherina’s feet. Ursula, her envious enemy and a liar but it is the many “half-formed people” who are swayed by ridiculous, unreal charges. The years have been difficult, and with failing crops, illnesses, and no end to miseries people turn to superstitions. Sure, she is a gossip and a meddler, with a mean mouth maybe but a murdering witch she is not. Her own complaint against Urusla and her husband, the glazier is turned against Katherina into a criminal case.

Katerina’s forthright manner, her lack of boundaries, the herb and flower concoctions she dispenses only serve to muddy her innocence. Even her kind neighbor, an old widower, knows her to be a handful. When those who have dealings with her, neighbors, friends and foe alike, are called to give testimony even the most harmless of incidents grow into tales of bedevilment. Why, exactly, did she want her dead father’s skull dug up? When her son Hans isn’t quick to respond to a letter, hoping he will stand by her, she fears too what it will do to his place in life, his important work. I looked up Johannes and read that his life was full of sorrows during this time too.

Soon, people who did her a turn of kindness come forward, brimming with resentment. Locals are suddenly remembering wild behavior, and fury, lack of humility in their interactions with her. Each has their own “come to think of it” moments, that make her suspect. How can anyone defend such marks against their character? Character assassination grows into a beast, and suddenly she is to blame for every terrible thing that has ever happened, regardless of how insignificant. All the bad luck is due to a witch in their midst. Katherina is brazen, one who doesn’t shrink into herself, always an unwelcome attribute in a woman, especially in 1619. Too bold, too meddlesome, asking for it- punishment. We get an earful of why she is guilty and the truth, as she tells it, of her innocence. One thing that stuck with me, much like news and gossip, all you need to do is bend one ear to your way of thinking to start a fire in someone’s life, to burn them at the stake. That it is based on a real person is horrifying, it’s so easy to ruin another and the law, in those times as in modern ones, certainly weren’t running on logic. Can you challenge stupidity, when it’s current state of affairs? A solid, historical fiction. Intelligently written and well researched.

Publication Date: June 8, 2021

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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