Summary and book reviews of Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch by Rivka Galchen

Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch

by Rivka Galchen

Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch by Rivka Galchen X
Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch by Rivka Galchen
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  • Published:
    Jun 2021, 288 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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About this Book

Book Summary

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 Württemberg. 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Drawing on real historical documents but infused with the intensity of imagination, sly humor, and intellectual fire for which Rivka Galchen is known, Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch will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.

Excerpt
Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch

Herein I begin my account, with the help of my neighbor Simon Satler, since I am unable to read or write. 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.

When I was a child, our cow Mare at my father's inn was cross and bitter toward me. I didn't know why. I wouldn't hesitate to put a blue silk ribbon on her neck if she were here today. She died from the milk fever, which was no doing of mine, though as a young child I felt it was my doing, because Mare had kicked me and I had then called her fat-kidneyed. Was she my enemy? It takes time and experience to gain a cow's trust.

Now I'm seventy-some years old. I'll spend no more time on the enemies, or loves, of my youth and middle age. I'll say only that I've never before had even the smallest run-in with the law. Not for fighting, not for cursing, not for licentiousness, not for the pettiest theft. Yet ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Superficially, not a lot happens, and at first glance the narrative appears to simply be an old woman's rambling report of her grievances. Upon reflection, though, one starts to appreciate Galchen's talent; she marvelously paints detailed pictures of the era, the characters and the progression of Katharina's case without being overt with her descriptions. Events happen in the background and are referred to obliquely, but the reader is still able to understand what's going on. From her own point of view, Katharina is a perfectly reasonable person, but behind her words we see someone overbearing, cranky and generally difficult. It's the ability to make the complex seem simple at first that sets Galchen's writing apart...continued

Full Review Members Only (675 words).

(Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Media Reviews

Vulture
Galchen is an inventor and fabulist of the highest order: Her narratives are rigorous, antic creations that explore deceit, misinformation, identity, and the nature of knowledge. Her latest puzzle box of a novel is a surrealist horror story set in the 17th century...the story is winding and hallucinatory, full of poison, gossip, and astral musings. Drawing partly from historical documents, the world Galchen creates feels more than just real. It feels haunted.

Booklist
Though the story unfolds in seventeenth-century Germany, Galchen gives Kath and the rest of her characters modern speech habits in a way that retains authenticity and makes for compulsively readable prose...Enchanted creatures and enticing oddities populate the book's pages...The highly satisfying result is part portrait of an eccentric woman, part social drama, and part nuanced recasting of historical misogynies.

Library Journal
In this compelling look at women's rights and the invented crime of witchcraft, the surprise is that the perseverance of the accused shifts the focus from victimhood to basic mortality and the challenge of dealing with death and illness before a coherent understanding of disease existed. Highly recommended for fans of history, science, and the human condition.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
[C]aptivating...Galchen portrays her characters as complicated and full of wit...This is a resounding delight.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
There is so much in this novel to consider—the degree to which we make monsters of one another, the way that old age can make of femininity an apparently terrifying, otherworldly thing—but it is also, at every step along the way, an entirely delicious book. Dazzling in its humor, intelligence, and the richness of its created world.

Author Blurb Karen Russell, author of Swamplandia! and Orange World
Imagine a story set in 1620 that speaks directly to your own scalded, twenty-first century heart. By Rivka Galchen's magic, Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch instantly became one of my favorite books. I need no witchcraft to predict it will astonish, beguile, and transform you, too.

Author Blurb Alejandro Zambra, author of Ways of Going Home
This jewel of a novel is as perturbing as it is hilarious. It's also a fundamental piece of history—particularly relevant for these times—written with Rivka's unusual intelligence and her sharp eye for detail.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Johannes Kepler (1571-1630)

Johannes Kepler, 1610 The narrator of Rivka Galchen's novel Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch is Katharina Kepler, mother of noted astronomer Johannes Kepler. Kepler was born in 1571 in Weil der Stadt, Württemberg, a German territory within the Holy Roman Empire. His father, whom Kepler pronounced "an immoral, rough and quarrelsome soldier," was a mercenary who abandoned the family when Johannes was five years old. Though he was sickly and from a poor background, Kepler's intellect was quickly recognized and encouraged. After grammar school, he went on to a Protestant seminary at Adelberg and continued his religious studies at the Protestant university in Tübingen.

Kepler's interest in astronomy began when he was young; he watched the Great ...

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