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The Heretic's Daughter (2008)

by Kathleen Kent

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2,3081835,726 (3.81)225
Martha Carrier was one of the first women to be accused, tried and hanged as a witch in Salem, Massachusetts. Like her mother, young Sarah Carrier is bright and willful, openly challenging the small, brutal world in which they live. Often at odds with one another, mother and daughter are forced to stand together against the escalating hysteria of the trials and the superstitious tyranny that led to the torture and imprisonment of more than 200 people accused of witchcraft. This is the story of Martha's courageous defiance and ultimate death, as told by the daughter who survived.… (more)
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English (180)  Dutch (3)  All languages (183)
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As God in heaven knows, changing a name cannot change the history of a place.

Nothing can change the history of Salem, Massachusetts, so the inhabitants have embraced it. They have built a memorial to the innocents who died there, they have made a kind of tourist industry of it, but the reality of what transpired stills the heart when truly contemplated.

...on that exact hour, a four-year-old girl, Dorcas Good, was examined by those judges in Salem Town jail. Her little feet and hands were bound by iron manacles so she could not send her spirit out and torment further the girls who were her accusers.

The reality of what happened to 20 innocent men and women in Salem, and to countless others who were not hanged, reads like a twisted fairytale; but of course, it is all too real and all too revealing of who we humans can be in our worst hours. Look around, closely, and see the blame game and hysteria of our own times.

Most of us are familiar with the events, and perhaps even with the details, but Kathleen Kent has put such a human face on Martha Carrier and her family that it all seems imbued with a fresh kind of horror and terror. What could you do in the face of such accusations? How long could you stand up for your innocence or that of your loved ones when sanity has taken a vacation and your mere denial places others in jeopardy? Who hasn’t uttered words that might be twisted and reshaped until they are swords in the hands of the unscrupulous fanatic?

Kent writes beautifully, with a sharpness and wisdom in her words:

A red wasp crawled across my hand and I froze lest he bury his stinger in my flesh. He was beautiful and frightful with his soulless black eyes and quivering barb and it came harshly to me that this garden was the world and from the world there would be no hiding.

The book is sprinkled with words I wished to remember and quotes I stopped to ponder:

Life is not what you have or what you can keep. It is what you can bear to lose.

Men are always the last to ken what women know by sniffing the air. That’s why God gave bodily might to Adam, to balance the inequities in strength.


The tension in this novel begins to build from the first page. The sense of foreboding is palpable. Sarah, our narrator, says The dread that had poured over me on the way to Samuel Preston’s farm returned to lick its way from my eyes to my neck. It congealed and tightened there like an insect caught in an amber necklace. That pretty much describes the way I felt throughout the book.

We know where it is going, we know it will not end well, we know reason did not win this battle, and yet I sat on the edge of my seat, hoping and wishing for another outcome. But, this is not a book about fantasy, this is a book about reality--in 1692 this was a world and an event that was all too real. Like [b:The Crucible|17250|The Crucible|Arthur Miller|https://i.gr-assets.com/images/S/compressed.photo.goodreads.com/books/1547467608l/17250._SX50_.jpg|1426723] before it, it is about strength; strength of character, impossible endurance, maintaining who you are in the face of unspeakable injustice. It is a reminder that there are different ways to define victory, some victories are shallow and some are intangible and worth remembering for ages.

If I am ever able to make the trip to Massachusetts, I would like to stand before the memorial they have built there and say a prayer for the souls of the twenty, and for all the other lives that were touched and changed by what happened to them there. For now, I pray for us, that we will have more wisdom, judgment and compassion than our ancestors had.

( )
  mattorsara | Aug 11, 2022 |
I have been reading a lot of books on Salem and the witch trials. This book stands out among them all for having a very vivid aura, told from the first person perspective, which greatly enhances the feeling of authenticity. Too many of the books are just a regurgitation of the historic records. This book brings the story of Martha Carrier and her particular family to life. I highly recommend it. ( )
  Designwise | Oct 23, 2021 |
Very interesting read. ( )
  3CatMom | Dec 28, 2020 |
Wow. Well written but terrifying and sad, it is the best book I’ve read on the Salem Witch trials. The horrors and the unbelievable stupidity and over zealousness of the accusers and the judges is eerily familiar in these dark days as we strive to save our country and our world from the incompetence, greed, and ignorance of Trump and his minions. ( )
  LoriFox | Oct 24, 2020 |
I picked the Heretic’s Daughter off my shelf thinking I could just blow through it, that it would be just “okay” and I could give it away. I was pleasantly surprised when I blew through it, not because it was mediocre, but because it was very interesting. I like that it is a framed narrative, and that the whole story is a letter to the main character’s granddaughter. It feels like Kathleen Kent put a lot of research into the book. The honest sense of the struggle to survive in harsh conditions with harsher neighbors permeates the book. Kent gives us the bitter cold in the winter, the fact that if your father did not successfully hunt you went hungry, the real danger of a fire, or rot in your fields that will make your entire winter not just miserable but life-threatening. And on top of that there is mass hysteria running rampant through the countryside and being a social outcaste was much more a cause to be blamed for witchcraft than any dabbling in the black arts.
Kent did a good job making this a multi-layered story without it becoming cluttered or confusing. Uncle Roger tells stories to and spends a lot of time with Margaret and Sarah, but he also drinks and runs out on his wife. He is very kind to Sarah while she is in his house, but also insulting of Sarah’s father. And there is still a feeling that there is something beyond what we know-not necessarily witchcraft, but her mother and grandmother’s sight—that they sometimes have a feeling that someone is coming or something is going to happen, and her cousin Margaret’s “elfin look” and her little people in the cupboard who tell her to do things. Uncle Roger’s use of “conjuration” to get rid of witches. But of course, these are not the kinds of things that get people condemned of witchcraft. You are much more likely to be condemned if your crops do better than your neighbors, or you have a sharp tongue—or if you bring disease to town or are a foreigner. ( )
  renardkitsune | Jul 14, 2019 |
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Epigraph
Ah, children, be afraid of going prayerless to bed, lest the Devil be your bedfellow.
—Cotton Mather from a funeral service
Dedication
This book is dedicated to Mitchell and Joshua

And to my parents, John and Audrey, for giving me the stories.
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The distance by wagon from Billerica to neighboring Andover is but nine miles.
Quotations
The chief judge then asked Mother, "What do you say to this you are charged with?"

Mother's voice sounded loud and clear through to the back of the room, "I have not done it."
I see the world, Sarah, and call it by what I feel it should be, not by what others who in their dull reveries think it is.
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Martha Carrier was one of the first women to be accused, tried and hanged as a witch in Salem, Massachusetts. Like her mother, young Sarah Carrier is bright and willful, openly challenging the small, brutal world in which they live. Often at odds with one another, mother and daughter are forced to stand together against the escalating hysteria of the trials and the superstitious tyranny that led to the torture and imprisonment of more than 200 people accused of witchcraft. This is the story of Martha's courageous defiance and ultimate death, as told by the daughter who survived.

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Hachette Book Group

5 editions of this book were published by Hachette Book Group.

Editions: 0316024481, 1600244505, 0316037532, 031602449X, 1600248233

 

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