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The startling, witty, highly anticipated second novel from the critically acclaimed author of Atmospheric Disturbances.The story begins in 1618, in the German duchy of W rttemberg. Plague is spreading. The Thirty Years' War has begun, and fear and suspicion are in the air throughout the Holy Roman Empire. In the small town of Leonberg, Katharina Kepler is accused of being a witch. Katharina is an illiterate widow, known by her neighbors for her herbal remedies and the success of her children, including her eldest, Johannes, who is the Imperial Mathematician and renowned author of the laws of planetary motion. It's enough to make anyone jealous, and Katharina has done herself no favors by being out and about and in everyone's business. So when the deranged and insipid Ursula Reinbold (or as Katharina calls her, the Werewolf) accuses Katharina of offering her a bitter, witchy drink that has made her ill, Katharina is in trouble. Her scientist son must turn his attention from the music of the spheres to the job of defending his mother. Facing the threat of financial ruin, torture, and even execution, Katharina tells her side of the story to her friend and next-door neighbor Simon, a reclusive widower imperiled by his own secrets. Drawing on real historical documents but infused with the intensity of imagination, sly humor, and intellectual fire for which Rivka Galchen is known, Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch will both provoke and entertain. The story of how a community becomes implicated in collective aggression and hysterical fear is a tale for our time. Galchen's bold new novel touchingly illuminates a society and a family undone by superstition, the state, and the mortal convulsions of history.
- ISBN-13: 9780374280468
- ISBN-10: 0374280460
- Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
- Publish Date: June 2021
- Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.4 x 1.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 0.8 pounds
- Page Count: 288
Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch
Did you know that the mother of Johannes Kepler, the 17th-century German scientist best known for his laws of planetary motion, was accused of being a witch? Rivka Galchen’s Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch is the fictionalized story of Katharina Kepler, who was accused of this crime at the same time her son was struggling to get his astronomical theories written and accepted.
Katharina is an easy target for the preposterous charge of witchcraft. She’s considered a widow, since her feckless husband hared off to join a war—any war would do, and there were a number going on at the time—when their children were young. Katharina does not suffer fools, and she refers to her enemies by such nicknames as the Cabbage, the Werewolf and the False Unicorn. She’s a bit of a busybody who doesn’t hesitate to press advice and herbal remedies on people who may or may not want them. And while she’s not a highborn lady, she owns property that some folks would like to get their hands on.
But she’s also tenderhearted and capable of great devotion. One of the first things we learn about her is her affection for her cow, Chamomile. When the powers that be finally come for Katharina, the moment is wrenching.
Most contemporary stories about witch hunts take a swipe at the patriarchy, and Galchen’s novel does, too. To plead her case, Katharina needs a male legal guardian, even though she’s a mature woman of sound mind and body. Guardianship is provided by Simon, her town’s somewhat forlorn saddler, and then by the put-upon Johannes.
Galchen, author of Atmospheric Disturbances (2008), scrutinizes the corrosiveness of town gossip as the tales about Frau Kepler grow more and more ridiculous: She scratched a young girl she passed in the road; she rode a goat or a calf or some beast backward, then killed and ate it; and a mere glance from her will cause people to sicken and livestock to go mad and die. It doesn’t help that Katharina’s illustrious son has been excommunicated by the Lutheran church.
Written with a surprising sense of humor for such a grim topic, Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch shows what happens when a crowd is taken over by delusion, bigotry and grievance.