The comedy that runs through Everyone Knows is a magical brew of absurdity and brutality. Galchen has a Kafkaesque sense of the way the exercise of authority inflates egos and twists logic ... There’s real sorcery here, but it arises only from the way Galchen fuses ancient and modern consciousness ... testimonies present a jaw-dropping catalogue of anxieties, irritations and non sequiturs—all the various ways human beings can make themselves believe whatever they must to avoid acknowledging that they’re afraid, that they’re jealous, that they can’t control their lives. Late in the novel, all the most bizarre accusations are enumerated in a list that could pass for Renaissance Twitter ... The fate of Kepler’s mother is a matter of historical record, but Galchen arrives at something the facts can’t catch: The exhaustion, the bone-weariness of fighting such misogyny year after year. It’s enough to break a weaker person.
Katharina’s sections tell a very funny and witty account of a society coming undone because of moral panic .... Galchen expertly weaves together a story told from multiple perspectives, showing how easy it is for a mob mentality to take hold in a climate of fear and ignorance when a woman simply exists outside of the norm. But within the novel’s sharpest and most humorous moments, there’s a deep underlying sadness for an elderly woman reckoning with the loss in her life. Katharina’s fictional story reminds us of the thousands of real lives of men, women and children that have been lost to absurd cultural anxiety.
...delightfully funny ... With descriptions like this, Galchen efficiently drops us into 17th century Germany without elaborate scene-setting. Her acknowledgements show stacks of books she read for research, but that knowledge has been absorbed and digested. She doesn’t explain; she reveals. It’s harder than it looks ... The situation may be dire, but the novel is gosh-darn funny. Katharina is sharp and bright, and her narration sings ... Galchen has written another smart book that investigates the power of narrative, both good and bad, foregrounding a woman who’d only been a footnote to a famous man’s story, all while being funny and deceptively easy to read. It’s quite a magic trick.
... fantasies projected onto an innocent woman offer a mesmeric view into the essence of Othering and the allure of scapegoating, showing how far we’ll bend reality to find answers for why we suffer ... Galchen brilliantly uses Simon to obscure the tension of the story, showing how distrust and conflict rarely arise from obvious sources ... Galchen explores this insidious philosophical terrain with incisive intellect and humor, once again proving herself to be one of contemporary fiction’s sharpest minds.
... what has been most distinctive about Ms. Galchen’s project is how consistently weird it is. I mean this as highest praise. There’s something uncanny about Ms. Galchen writing. Her mind refuses to work like other minds ... Drawing on contemporary accounts, depositions by Katharina’s accusers preserved in records of her trial, and protest letters by Johannes to his aristocratic circle, Ms. Galchen constructs a historical armature on which she frees herself to build.
Katharina is a remarkable creation. We know her, yet there are aspects that remain mysterious, such as her work ... Galchen shows us that life hasn’t changed, and neither has human suspicion of the unknown, and neither has male fear of women. There are comic moments...but other scenes are wrenching, such as when Katharina is hauled naked out of her house to meet judgment in court. One of Galchen’s great accomplishments is making us see, through Katharina’s boldness, how illusory and unstable our concept of 'society' is, and how ultimately, looking upwards, at the stars, away from the earth, as her son famously did, is a pursuit more likely to have truth at its end.
... we readers grieve that the information age has rotted into the age of misinformation and outright lies. Hence the novel's contemporary resonance ... a surprisingly inert book. Galchen hasn't made us smell the stench of the Devil's breath, snort at provincial fools, quail before heartless powers-that-be. A novel about witchcraft should feel ominous, should crackle with suspense. Where is the fury and the terror?
... situated and told in a way that is funny, sad, and suffused with the weird, incandescent logic of a story-within-a-story distorted through a fever dream ... the language here is rich, but also contemporary, demotic, wry—in which gossip and slander not only propel the narrative but seem to constitute and negate an unstable reality ... You’d expect a novel with such a sassy title—not to mention a pink and purple cover—to fall back on the 'witch' tropes of contemporary pop-feminism ...This is a beautiful, slippery book that gives much if you can grasp it. As soon as I finished, I wanted to read it again, not only because the characters were good company but because, like life itself, it produced in me that paradoxical pleasure of having not quite understood.
Galchen leaves it up to the reader to distinguish what she’s culled from actual records from what’s merely fiction. The fact that it’s impossible to do so speaks not only to Galchen’s deft ear for historical voice, but also shows how the difference between truth and falsehood (or, in current terms, between 'real' and 'fake news') has always been a point of contention ... Galchen is thorough in producing all of the evidence against Katharina, most of it flimsy hearsay ... By moving between chapters of interior observation to excerpts of townsfolk’s testimony, Galchen creates a rhythm that keeps an otherwise straightforward story engaging. As a witch hunt narrative, Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch doesn’t cover entirely new terrain ... But on the levels of form and technique, Galchen’s choral approach elevates the novel and frames Katharina’s ordeal as a timeless example of how smart, independent women are routinely silenced and suppressed ... On its surface, it might seem like a soft landing for an author known for...wild, creative twists ... But the lack of a resounding finale also lends this historical tale a refreshing realism, bridging the expanse that separates the early 1600s from today.
It isn’t that subjectivity doesn’t matter in this novel: more that it only matters when it becomes a problem, when it rubs up against traditional categories of identity and associated norms of behaviour ... Given that Everyone Knows is the story of Katharina’s trial, the result seems set to be the climax of the plot. (No spoilers here.) In the event, we learn what happens almost as an afterthought ... Historical events and processes dwarf the significance of Katharina’s trial. The plague runs rampant: a gingerbread seller in Frankfurt tells Simon his village has been wiped out. Habsburg soldiers arrive in Protestant Württemberg, destroying and burning as they go ... There’s a kind of order to this, or at least an inevitability, but it isn’t Hans’s celestial order. And where is Katharina? At her trial, the prosecution argues that there are evils and evils: complicated, faraway evils, such as war, which no municipal ruling can fix, and local, finite evils, such as the malevolent acts of a witch, that can and should be dealt with. But context, especially in a novel, doesn’t work like that, and Everyone Knows is a superb study of context.
... darkly funny ... thoroughly researched ... Katharina is opinionated, drily funny, and completely charming .. A less interesting novel might succumb too heavily to the anachronistic notion that witches were proto-feminists. But Galchen navigates the territory well, probing at ideas around accusation and the long history of disbelieving women. Her prose, which recalls Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, is light, pared back and subtly archaic. Moments where she nods at the contemporary obsession with witchcraft are funny rather than sincere ... It’s this dry humour that makes the novel sparkle ... As the narrative comes to a close, however, and we want to focus on Katharina and her fate, the interviews, letters and perspectives of other characters draw away from the tension of the novel, sometimes out of a duty to recount the stories of the real people involved. It’s Katharina’s voice that enchants, and it’s lost in the cacophony of characters. Galchen’s evocation of Katharina is so vivid, and has such verve, that she transcends her figure, and becomes a character. But in the end, she’s lost in the recounting of her own history.
... 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 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. She summons just enough of the details of life in Frau Kepler's time to create feeling of realism, without smothering the story in a surfeit of information to prove the thoroughness of her research. Though it's chronologically remote, in the story of Katarina Kepler one can reflect on contemporary issues that include feminism, social class, ageism and the ways in which people demonize those who don't conform to society's norms, while at the same time pondering the alien atmosphere of a world drenched in religious fervor and a pervasive belief in the supernatural. There's nothing diabolical about it, but Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch is a consistently entertaining novel that casts its own memorable spell.
Based on Katharina Kepler’s real life, the often bitingly funny narration comes primarily from Katharina herself as she unspools her story to her friend Simon. Juxtaposing this with court interviews with Katharina’s acquaintances, Galchen weaves a whip-smart feminist tale of a woman who is prosecuted and persecuted to save a man’s reputation. Along the way, she makes sharp and still relevant observations about society’s willingness to cast aside women when they’re no longer young and beautiful ... Though the plot at times feels meandering, Galchen does eventually get to the point, and Katharina’s insights, as well as those of the large, colorful cast of secondary characters, keeps the novel entertaining. Readers who can forgive an abrupt ending will find much to enjoy.
In this compelling look at women’s rights and the invented crime of witchcraft, the surprise is that the perseverance of the accused shifts the focus from victimhood to basic mortality and the challenge of dealing with death and illness before a coherent understanding of disease existed. Highly recommended for fans of history, science, and the human condition.
Though the story unfolds in seventeenth-century Germany, Galchen gives Kath and the rest of her characters modern speech habits in a way that retains authenticity and makes for compulsively readable prose. Each short section expands the Reformation-era world of the novel, drawing readers into the small-town drama ... The highly satisfying result is part portrait of an eccentric woman, part social drama, and part nuanced recasting of historical misogynies.
Galchen’s latest book, which is by turns witty, sly, moving, and sharp, is a marvel to behold ... Galchen’s prose can sparkle and sting with wit ... There is so much in this novel to consider—the degree to which we make monsters of one another, the way that old age can make of femininity an apparently terrifying, otherworldly thing—but it is also, at every step along the way, an entirely delicious book. Dazzling in its humor, intelligence, and the richness of its created world.