Books·Canadian

Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch

A novel by Rivka Galchen.

Rivka Galchen

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Drawing on real historical documents but infused with the intensity of imagination, sly humor, and intellectual fire for which Rivka Galchen is known, Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch will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

Rivka Galchen is a Canadian American writer. She is also the author of the novel Atmospheric Disturbances. She lives in New York City.

Why Rivka Galchen wrote Everyone Knows Your Mother is a Witch

"I was reading about the lives of scientists. In so many real-life stories of scientists throughout history, we see that they're bullied by politics and history — and bulldozed by it a lot. 

"I wanted to learn about Johannes Kepler, who was such a fantastic scientist. But there was no modern biography of Kepler in English. That's how I came to this amazing scholarly book by Ulinka Rublack called The Astronomer and the Witch, which is really about Johannes Kepler's mother, Katharina Kepler — and how, at the end of her life, she was put on trial as a witch. 

I dropped everything I was working on to learn more and imagine more about this woman, Katharina Kepler, who was the mother of a tremendous mathematical and scientific mind.

"I did not order the book to read about her; I ordered the book as it was the only thing I could find about Kepler. When I read it, I was thunderstruck. I was so interested and electrified and overwhelmed. All I wanted to do was reread the book and everything else I could learn about that time period. I dropped everything I was working on to learn more and imagine more about this woman, Katharina Kepler, who was the mother of a tremendous mathematical and scientific mind. 

Read more in her interview with Writers & Company.

Interviews with Rivka Galchen 

The Canadian-born American novelist talks about magic and science and her new book about the real-life witch trial of the mother of 17th century astronomer Johannes Kepler. 52:03

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversationCreate account

Already have an account?

now