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Friday, December 20, 2019

Unrelentingly Grim, Salem Witch Trials Novel is a Tough Read

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Author Kathleen Kent grew up hearing stories about her ancestor, Martha (Allen) Carrier, one of the first women to face charges of practicing witchcraft in Salem Village, Massachusetts.  Amid the superstition and paranoia pervading the area at the time, any woman who didn't conform to society's ideal was suspect.  In The Heretic's Daughter, which is narrated by Sarah Carrier, Martha's oldest daughter, Martha is portrayed as a stern, authoritative woman whose outspoken ways make her stand out in her strict Puritan community.  Tongues have long wagged over Martha's unsettling forthrightness.  When it catches the notice of attention-hungry accusers, it leads to her eventual imprisonment for witchcraft and death by hanging in 1692.  Guilt by association meant her husband and most of her children, Sarah included, also spent time in jail.  The Heretic's Daughter tells the whole unbelievable story.   

I've read many books about the Salem Witch Trials and none of them were light, happy reads!  The whole subject is heart-wrenching and disturbing.  Truthfully, I wouldn't have picked this one up (although the topic does fascinate me) if it weren't for book club.  One of the leaders, who is a direct descendant of Martha, picked The Heretic's Daughter as a Halloween read, which was apropos.  Appropriately sad and depressing, the novel is rather dry, even dull in places.  It's also grim, unrelentingly so.  These elements made it difficult for me to get into and really enjoy the read.  So, while I can't say I liked the book, I can say it's interesting.  With lots of fascinating historical detail, plus some truly devastating descriptions of imprisonment, the book is vivid and affecting.  Comparing actions of the day with modern "witch hunts" made for a lively, thought-provoking book club discussion.

Being a genealogy nerd, I, of course, had to figure out if I, too, was related to Martha Carrier.  Guess what?  I am!  Not directly, but we are long-lost cousins going way back.  It's likely you are, too.  If you have a family tree posted on FamilySearch, you can look up Martha (Allen) Carrier's profile and click "View My Relationship" to see if and how you are connected to her.  Don't have a family tree?  No problem.  You can make one easily on the site—as soon as you add a deceased relative, your tree should automatically populate using information already in the FamilySearch database.  It's a simple, fun way to trace your roots and learn about your ancestors, even famous ones like Abraham Lincoln (my cousin), Helen Keller (my cousin), Albert Einstein (not my cousin), or even Martha Carrier (my cousin).  

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of other books about witchcraft/the Salem Witch Trials, like The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare, Wicked Girls by Stephanie Hemphill, Father of Lies by Ann Turner, and Dear America: I Walk in Dread by Lisa Rowe Fraustino)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for brief, mild language (no F-bombs), violence, mild sexual content, blood/gore, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of The Heretic's Daughter from Amazon with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, a tough read for sure. I have a hard time reading about some of these times, but like WWII stories, it is a time that we need to remember.


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