book review, historical fiction

Review: Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch by Rivka Galchen

Everyone Knows Your Mother is a Witch is loosely based on the true story of Katherina Kepler, an elderly woman in accused of witchcraft in early 17th century Württemberg. The book shifts perspectives and styles in conveying the “investigation” and trial of Katherina. We get much of the story from Simon, Katherina’s neighbor who is writing her account as dictated while she is in prison, Katharina’s daughter-in-law, letters to government leaders from Katherina’s supporters and detractors, and trial questioning transcripts of supporters and detractors.

Rivka Galchen’s voice through these character is quite casual, almost modern in some senses, which supports Katherina’s no-nonsense personality. She is an elderly woman alone, viewed as out of the norm, of slightly skewed perspectives and ideas which single her out as an “other.” What’s more, one of her sons is an Imperial mathematician which highlights her position in the community even more (for better or for worse.)

Although the subject matter was interesting, I actually found this novel hard to follow. The shifting perspectives, not marked by any chapter indicator or who was speaking, was disorienting and many times I found myself not knowing whose perspective I was reading until a few pages into a chapter (and only then would I discover it later through context.) Not only were the unmarked, shifting perspectives confusing, but the narrative was often meandering and the end of the novel quite anticlimactic. I would have liked to have enjoyed this book more, but it was generally challenging to follow.