Monday, November 9, 2009

The Heretic's Daughter

by Kathleen Kent

Most of my historical reading experience has been the Tudors with maybe a little bit before then with the Plantagenets. I usually don't delve into American History; I think it's too new and too young to even be considered history. (Yes, I know America is over 225 years old...but compared to Egypt and Asia and Europe, it's still too young!) I picked up this book at the Boston Book Festival in October because I met the author at one of the seminars. She gave a great review of the novel during her talk (of course she did...) and it caught my attention. So I bought it and even had her autograph it for me, then the second I got home, I entered New England, circa 1690.

Considering this is a first novel by a new author, I am incredibly impressed. The imagery leaped out at me, and I could practically see the fear and the chaos that was the start and entire foundation of the Salem Witch Trials. Sarah Carrier takes you through her own ordeal-- her trial, being jailed, the hanging of her mother, everything-- so you see first-hand how the families in the area lived in trepidation.

Kathleen Kent is related to Martha Carrier, Sarah's mother, so she grew up with this story. It is personal. And it comes out in the book. She tells the story with such care and honesty; no one who did not have a close personal connection to it would not have done such a great job. It is almost as though Ms Kent is proud to have had Martha as her ancestor; after all, Martha died for her beliefs, stating until the end that she was innocent of witchcraft. Who wouldn't want such a valiant ancestor?

Going into the book, having listened to Ms Kent at the Book Festival, I knew the story. But that did not stop me from enjoying it! The story was written in such a way that the reader stuck with Sarah the entire time-- felt her pain and chagrin, her need for acceptance, her horrifying time in shackles. I can't really say I identified with her since I've never been put on trial for being a witch (I was a witch once for Halloween, but I don't think that counts), but she was very real and human and had to endure hardships that most of us don't even think about in our lifetimes.

It's always good to step out of your comfort zone once in a while and read about a different era. It was actually rather refreshing and educational. Having lived in New England since high school, I did learn about the Witch Trials and have even been to Salem, but it definitely makes a difference to hear a first-hand account from someone who was there.

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