Everyone Knows your Mother is a Witch
It’s fair to look at this cover, font, and image and make some assumptions about what you’re about to read. I had the joy and probably making those assumptions, but not actually looking up what this book was about. I had read Rivka Galchen’s pillow book book and really enjoyed it so I was always already going to read this one.
While the presentation of the book might not match its exact subject, the tone surely does. It’s historical fiction by way of a kind of assumption about the world that people more or less don’t change. Sometimes the language does, but one of the fascinating things I find when I read translated literature is that newer translations, which often put the language more into a contemporary voice might not be the most accurate or academic, but they do offer up a vitality that the text probably has. Older English language texts can often staid to me in a way that foreign language texts don’t. This book reads like a translated text, taking the voice and language of an older, foreign world (Germany c 1600) and making it feel incredibly vital. And it was, because all times ever were incredibly vital, even if we don’t always have that vitality in the representations in writing or other art. Think about how dour Victorians seem in photos, knowing that they had to hold a pose at length to capture them. When we can snap a photo not only instantly but repeatedly in such a short span, those photos are more imbued with life in a way older works sometimes do not.
Anyway, this is about a witch trial. One that begins when Johannes Kepler’s (withcy?) mother is drunkenly demanded to unhex someone accusing her of hexing them, assisted by a town official. When she explains that she can’t unhex someone if she didn’t hex them, and that she can’t hex anyone, and that also maybe it would be imprudent to admit to hexing/unhexing in the presence of a town official, the scene settles down. Later, stewing over it, she accuses that official of libel, which sets off her own accusations. The rest of the book splits its time between the court documents and testimonies of many different people around town and Katharina’s diary. It’s a true wonderful and awful book about the continuity of humanity and human depravity. You’ll love it, and maybe hate it. Or hate 17th century Germans.
|I love a good themed poetry book, especially when the poetry that comes from that theme is so clearly rendered and told. I also like audiobook versions of poetry because I do still struggle with my reading of poetry in meaningful and clear ways. Having an author give their voice to their own writing helps a lot with this issue.
The book is based on a report issued by the city of Chicago in response to a race riot in 1919, of course started by whites in response to Black success, in which a large of number of Black Chicagoans were killed, alongside a number of white Chicagoans as well. The report itself seems ambitious and almost certainly overpromises and under-delivers on its reporting. In addition to this, I can’t honestly say I know much about Chicago in this time period other than was is still true about Chicago in the years since the publication of The Jungle, what gaps there are in the poems of Carl Sandburg (plenty, with a little shade by Ewing in this book), and what remained true from this time period and is illustrated in Richard Wright’s Native Son (still plenty if that novel is to be believed — it is).