Rivka Galchen is the author of the novel Atmospheric Disturbances and the story collection American Innovations. She is the recipient of a William Saroyan International Prize for Fiction and a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award, and she writes regularly for the New Yorker. Her new novel, Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, June 8) is based on the 17th-century German witch trial of Katharina Kepler, mother of the astronomer Johannes Kepler.
In this interview, Galchen discusses the little-known historical figure of Katharina Kepler and why she decided to write a novel about her; the challenges of writing historical fiction and its value as an “escape” from our current time; the differences between the Salem witch trials and those conducted in Germany in the 17th century; and the role of humor in her writing.
From the starred Kirkus review of Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch: “Galchen’s latest book, which is by turns witty, sly, moving, and sharp, is a marvel to behold. Set in the early 1600s and based on real events—Katharina Kepler was Johannes Kepler’s mother, who really was tried as a witch—the novel also speaks to our own time in its hints at the apparent malleability of truth.…Galchen’s story will, by necessity, remind many readers of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, but by focusing her narrative on an old woman rather than a cast of attractive young girls, she’s made her mission a far sneakier one. Then, too, Galchen’s prose can sparkle and sting with wit.…There is so much in this novel to consider—the degree to which we make monsters of one another, the way that old age can make of femininity an apparently terrifying, otherworldly thing—but it is also, at every step along the way, an entirely delicious book.”