Monday, October 18, 2021

Walking toward my own perimeter

Anyone who takes gentle care of a cow is someone I trust. It's a more telling characteristic of a person than taking Communion. Certainly more telling than good teeth.

I wanted to like this book. I love the idea of this book. I didn't love this book. 

I love the title of this book. I bought it in the company of my mother and my daughter. It was a joke between us. Only I would read it and be disappointed by it, but it brought three generations together, we repeatedly referenced it and laughed.

Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch, by Rivka Galchen, is about the astronomer Johannes Kepler's illiterate mother, who was accused of witchcraft (true story). Meanwhile, a plague is brewing, and politicians have sunk the Empire into a state of war (also, true story).

Galchen portrays Katharina as financially independent, strong-spirited, and respected as a healer and neighbour. Until she wasn't.

As I was returning home that night on the narrow path that runs along the side of the Junker's property, I saw a crowd of young peasant girls, eleven-and twelve-year-olds or so. Maybe one or two younger. The girls were carrying bricks to that kiln rum by Lorenz Neher. I wouldn't have thought anything of it, but, for some reason, this day I saw that I was walking to the end of my life, and they were walking into their bloom. They were walking toward the center of their lives, and I was walking toward my own perimeter. I'm not usually detained by fanciful nonsense like that. It was a curious angle of the sun, of late light. 

What a peculiar time, when science and witchcraft could exist, both equally subject to suspicion, alongside the Protestant Reformation. People were so readily swayed and could be turned against each other. The "case" against Katharina was a regular witch hunt.

According to a Vulture profile, "Galchen’s women do not tick off any of the three dominant boxes in contemporary fiction: mad, bad, or sad. What they are most frequently is unorthodox." Unorthodox women, all witches.

The novel is full of historical detail, it puts a parade of colourful villagers on display, and it's funny. I read it just after I'd read Tyll, thus possibly surpassing my quota of 17th-century Germanic quasi-magical plague-adjacent stories.

Maybe I was disappointed because my mother is not a witch. Or because I'm not a witch. Maybe I wish people accused me of witchcraft. I wish I was the kind of woman people accused of witchcraft. I hope my daughter thinks of me as a witch, as a source of strength and healing power.

"Luther said that even if the earth were to end tomorrow, he would still plant his tree. I've been thinking about that."

"Where do you get your brightness from?" I asked her.

She said she got it from me.

See also
London Review of Books
Camp TOB 2021 discussion: Part 1Part 2 
CBC: Writers and Company

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