I’m doing my last book review of the year–no, make that the decade. I wish I had something light and fun to talk about, but this book was anything but fluffy.
Kathleen Kent recounts the year leading up to and the time during the Salem witch trials through the eyes of 11-year-old Sarah Carrier, whose own headstrong mother, Martha, was tried and hung as a witch. Kent’s descriptions of the bleak Puritan life on Sarah’s parents’ Andover farm, a time of superstition, hardship, and deadly illness, made for difficult reading. In truth, there were times that I wanted to pop the cd out of my car stereo and return the book to the library. However, I persevered and I’m glad that I did.
I have always held the Puritans in high regard, mainly because of their sheer tenacity. Escaping religious persecution by moving across the Atlantic to a new home with a harsh climate, Indian raids and back-breaking work has always captured my imagination as being the ultimate in determination. However, “The Heretic’s Daughter” has brought to light an uglier side of this community, where grudges were turned into deadly accusations and teenage hysteria caused the death of many innocent people. People lived in fear of being accused of practicing witchcraft and no one, including the youngest and oldest, were safe.
I had visited Salem, Massachusetts when I was a young girl. I remember it as a charming place with museums and tourist bling on every corner. However, reading this book made me realize the true horrors that the townspeople of Salem and the neighboring villages encountered during those dark days. Sarah Carrier, after being thrown into prison with her three brothers and mother, described a place so vile and horrifying that several ministers appealed to England in an attempt to reform the colonial prison system after it was all over.
Perhaps what made this book even more fascinating is that Kent is a descendent of the Carrier family and researched her subject for many years. She brought the world of the early colonists to vivid life.
It would be easy to blame the Salem witch trials simply on religion. After all, it is indeed ironic that a group of people brought together by the intolerance of others should be so narrow-minded and judgemental of their own kind. However, I believe that it was fear and fanaticism that fueled the witch trials to become the true horrors that they were. It’s also ironic that over 300 years later, religious fanaticism is still causing death and terror in this country. It’s sometimes difficult to accept that some things never change.