Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch

As she demonstrated in her 2014 short story collection, American Innovations, Rivka Galchen has a taste for the fantastic. She puts that talent to good use in her second adult novel, Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch, a vibrant, provocative story based on real events that astutely holds up life in a small town in 17th-century Europe as a mirror for the present day.

Galchen's novel is set in the duchy of Württemburg, then part of the Holy Roman Empire, just as the Thirty Years War is beginning. Most of its action takes place in the town of Leonberg, near Stuttgart, and focuses on the prosecution of Katharina Kepler, mother of famed mathematician and astronomer Johannes Kepler, for witchcraft. When she's not tending to her cow, Chamomile, Katharina is a well-known presence in the community, noteworthy for her interest in herbal remedies and her sometimes cantankerous personality.

A claim by fellow townswoman Ursula Reinbold that Katharina served her a poisoned cup of wine provokes Katharina to file a slander suit that's soon met by a formal accusation of witchcraft against her. What follows is a Kafkaesque legal proceeding that at one point lands Katharina in prison, where she must pay the guards hired to watch her.

Like Maggie O'Farrell's prize-winning novel Hamnet, Galchen's story succeeds in infusing a work of historical fiction with a completely modern sensibility, all without sacrificing any of the story's fidelity to its source material. Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch is a consistently entertaining novel that casts its own memorable spell. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer

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