For The Someday Book

Book Review: The Heretic’s Daughter

Posted on: September 2, 2013

The Heretic’s Daughter by Kathleen Kent, Little, Brown and Company, 2008, 332 pp.

hereticThe Heretic’s Daughter is a novel about the Salem Witch Trials, inspired by the author’s genealogical discovery of a distant relation with one of the women tried and hanged as a witch at Salem. I was nervous about the book’s content on both of those counts: I didn’t anything to do with a book that made it seem that the Salem Witch Trials had anything really to do with witches, nor was I interested in a personal genealogical fantasy. The jacket convinced me to give it a try, and I was not disappointed.

The Heretic’s Daughter is told from the perspective of Sarah Carrier, the daughter of Martha Carrier, who was hanged as a witch at Salem and is kin to the author. It is as much a story about growing up in the tough conditions in the colonies, where religious and social climate is as harsh and dangerous as the Massachusetts winter. Sarah and her siblings must navigate this dangerous life of small pox, lawlessness, attacks by Native Americans, and crop failures that can trigger starvation. Sarah’s parents initially appear to match the cruel disdain of the landscape, but as the novel unpacks their story to her and to us, we come to treasure their fortitude and love for each other and for their children.

The novel was a beautifully written story from beginning to end. It is faithful to the history of the Salem trauma, focusing on the political and personal causes at work against those who were accused and convicted, even drawing on some of the feminist history written in the last several decades. The book does not try to make a case for its own historicity, but the author uses her imagination in conjunction with her research to give us a story that is beautiful, compelling and fascinating to read. History buffs especially will appreciate some of the creative back-story she creates. An enjoyable read for anyone who likes historical fiction.

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About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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