cover image Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch

Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch

Rivka Galchen. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26 (272p) ISBN 978-0-374-28046-8

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. (June)