Kepler’s mother unfairly accused

Novel hailed by Margaret Atwood and Oprah Winfrey in its original English version, your mother is a witch has been named one of the best books of 2021 by numerous publications, including the New York Timesthe washington postthe Time and the Globe and Mail. This second opus by American-Canadian writer Rivka Galchen tells the incredible story of astronomer Johannes Kepler’s mother, who was accused of witchcraft in Germany in 1618.

Rivka Galchen

Photo courtesy of Les Éditions du Boréal

The story of mathematician and astronomer Johannes Kepler has spanned the ages: he gave his name to the laws of planetary motion. But what do we know about Katharina, his mother? Few things… until Rivka Galchen became interested in the incredible story of this illiterate widow who was accused of witchcraft in her small German town in 1618.

In Leonberg, at the beginning of the 17th century, nothing was going well: the region was hit by the plague, the harvests were bad and the population feared a new war. A culprit had to be found.

Suspicion fell on Katharina, a woman who had a knack for sticking her nose into other people’s business and who could cure various ailments with her mysterious remedies. When the glazier’s wife accuses him – without proof – of having poisoned her with a witch’s potion, the whole town is on her back. To escape the stake, she must deliver her version of the facts.

Rivka Galchen, a very talented writer, was passionate about Katharina’s story. With reason. She turns it into a novel that highlights the strangely elastic morality of an era made up of archaism, contradictions, but also great discoveries.

“I learned that even 300 years later Johannes Kepler’s biographers put aside what concerned his mother, because it was still considered something shameful and embarrassing! comments Rivka Galchen, in an interview.

“I came across this story because I love reading biographies of scientists and I read a book that talked about Kepler’s mother. It interested me a lot. »

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The writer examined the numerous witchcraft trials carried out in Germany during the same period and all kinds of documents relating to the time.

“It’s still fascinating to study the botany textbooks of the time. In fact, I feel like writing my novel was an excuse to spend a lot of time reading! »

“Every historical period is interesting, but at that time, superstition and science were very close to each other. I was lucky: I have an assistant who is in his early twenties and who studied not only German…but 17th century German. »

What surprised her the most was to see how much people were trying to be “good” at that time.

“We made an effort to be fair, and at the same time, envy and gossip could drive someone to the stake. »

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Kepler’s mother unfairly accused

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