Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Heretic's Daughter

Yesterday the strangest thing happened (for me at least!). I had a ton of energy and I couldn't seem to sit down. Driven describes my mood best. I whipped through the house doing all of the laundry and hanging it on the line, straightened the bedroom and bathroom, plus doing my normal errands. Any one of those chores would exhaust me on a normal day, but yesterday even when the pain set in, I still kept going. It felt good to accomplish so much; I felt like I actually blessed my family. Today I did the living room and a little picking up around the rest of the house. Again, I know that for most moms this isn't a noteworthy event; it's just a part of existence. But for me, it's a milestone. Maybe it's the beautiful weather we've been having and my spring cleaning/nesting instincts are kicking in. Whatever it is, I'm grateful for it, and I hope it sticks around.

The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent is a stunner of a debut novel. Kent is a descendant of Martha Carrier who was hung as a witch during the Salem Witch Trials. She takes Martha's story and tells it through the eyes of Martha's daughter Sarah, who was forced to testify against her mother and confess to witchcraft at the age of eight. The book is an incredibly powerful historical novel with plenty of accuracy along with dynamic characters. Sarah (who in the book is a bit older than the real child) lives a hard life working beside her taciturn parents and three older brothers on their hardscrabble farm. She is responsible for caring for her one-year old sister Hannah when the two are forced to live with her aunt and uncle during an outbreak of smallpox in the home. Her aunt and uncle are loving and friendly and Sarah's hard heart slowly blossoms under their care. This only hardens her heart even further toward her mother when she's returned to them several months later. But things are changing in their Andover, Massachusetts home. Witches have been discovered in Salem, and whispers and rumors are sweeping the countryside like wildfire. Kent carefully lays the case for Martha's charge of witchcraft: a jealous nephew, an angry neighbor, a humiliated serving girl. Each person becomes a strand in the noose around Martha's neck. Kent does a masterful job of portraying the suspicion and dread as more and more neighbors are arrested, including Sarah's kind uncle, who isn't who she thought he was. She makes a promise to her mother that both imprisons and frees Sarah. The descriptions of the horror of the jails the accused (including infants and small children) inhabited are unspeakable, and yet Sarah endures to learn what real love is. Of her mother's quiet, unfathomable, deep, unspoken love versus the shallow, easy, uncomplicated love of her aunt and uncle, Sarah learns which one stands in the face of adversity and so Sarah learns to stand and love as well. The ending alludes to a secret story in Sarah's father's past, one I hope Kent tackles with her next book. This book will change the way history remembers the Salem Witch Trials when seen through the eyes of a child.

We have a pair of turkey vultures roosting in the silo across the street, so they are often flying over our yard. It is an impressive sight to see that huge wingspan flying just overhead.


Anonymous said...

This was a beautiful, moving book written so skillfully that it brought me to tears a couple of times. It brought the reader into the heart of this horrific, evil time in our history and only emphasizes the cruelty of fanatic religionists.