Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Book 33: The Heretic's Daughter

The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent

I ordered this novel from Amazon a day before I saw Rusty's review on her personal blog, and finished reading it the day before that same review was pulled to the Pajiba main page - I guess I have weird timing.

The author, Kathleen Kent, is the descendent of one of the women that was hanged as a witch during the Salem Witch Trials, Martha Carrier. She has grown up with the family legends and mythology of this woman who chose to stand for her principles rather than confess and live. It's always amazing reading about the past and seeing how different people's reason and logic worked (of course, this still applies to certain groups even today) - if she were a witch, wouldn't she have something better to do than torment stupid teenage girls for no discernible reason?

Anyway, the story is a fictionalized version of Martha Carrier and her daughter, Sarah's, lives. Kent chose to make Sarah the narrator since as she explained, there was still so much that happened after Martha was executed. Life in the early colonies was hard, and Sarah's relationship with her mother was complicated to say the least. After she is sent to live with her aunt and uncle during a plague outbreak, she sees a different side of life, and her aunt and uncle have a much warmer home life, which Sarah thoroughly enjoys as well as her cousin Rachel's company. While Sarah's home may be harsher and stricter, it also becomes clear throughout the book that Sarah's family has greater principles and is much less confined by the superstitions of the day.

I couldn't help but cringe when I heard Sarah's uncle describe his attack against a village of an indigenous tribe to prevent them from attacking whites, and Sarah's father later tells her there was nothing heroic about these actions, since the village attacked was peaceful and the men weren't even there; her "brave" uncle" had massacred a village of women and children.

Much of the first half of the novel shows the dynamics in Sarah's family as well as the local community, all illuminating the grudges and innocent actions that would later be used as evidence or be the real motivators for accusing innocent men and women as witches.

Martha's outspoken has earned her many enemies and she realizes that she will be accused. She also decides before she is even imprisoned that she will not be kowtowed, though she counsels her children to do whatever it takes to survive. Carrier was willing to die for a principle along with a dozen others, and her strength inspired her memory to live for generations within her family.

While it was also fascinating to read about the early colonies, I can't say I felt much pity for the colonials, for the most part. Naturally, they can't be blamed for being superstitious since so little of science was generally known back then, but it is hard for me to sympathize with the villagers' fears of raids from Native Americans - after all, they had invaded their land, and then proceeded to kill off entire villages at a time - as a result, I don't feel much pity when I hear about a few dozen whites being killed in a raid. The whites would retaliate a hundredfold or already had done something much worse to which the raids were simply responses.

I enjoyed the novel, and Kent did a good job of mixing history with fiction, envisioning what life may have been like at the time and how easy it was to get neighbors to turn on each other and lose trust in one another.

1 comment:

denesteak said...

Tell me about it! (the weird timing thing.) When I had just finished reading and reviewing Stardust, Pajiba posted it... I got really excited at first because I thought it was my review, then I realized it wasn't. Ah well!