Monday, January 24, 2011

The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent

What comes to mind when you hear the words “Salem witch trials?” If you are of a literary bent, you might think of Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible or Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables. One of Hawthorne’s relatives was a Salem magistrate, and another was actually a judge at the witchcraft trials. His family history and Puritan background impacted his writing. Miller used the events from Salem in 1692 to stage his political views of the 1950’s McCarthy era so-called witch hunts for communists.

Writing more recently than Hawthorne or Miller, Kathleen Kent, author of the historical fiction novel The Heretic’s Daughter, traces her ancestry back nine generations to Thomas and Martha Carrier. Kent uses her family history to craft a tale of Martha’s daughter Sarah, who, along with her mother and brothers, is accused of witchcraft. Nine-year old Sarah is the narrator of the story, which is rich in historical detail and emotionally powerful.

Families living in Massachusetts almost a century before the Revolutionary War deal with smallpox, Indian attacks and primitive conditions, unheard of in modern day America, but mother-daughter, brother-sister and other family interactions are timeless. Rumors, accusations of witchcraft, formal charges, arrest and imprisonment shatters some families; the Carrier family becomes stronger.

Some critics find The Heretic’s Daughter too slow moving. I was intrigued; I read the book in two days. I want to read The Wolves of Andover, Kent’s prequel to her debut, but it is checked out. While I am waiting to read the story of Sarah’s parents, I’ve been studying the University of Virginia’s amazing archive of documents from the Salem trials. Next I will reread The Crucible and The House of the Seven Gables. One good read leads to another. Now for trip to New England to view the settings . . .

~ Michelle, Adult Services

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