Review: The Heretic's Daughter

Rating: 4.5 / 5

I tend to dig out stories of the Salem witch trials, so when I heard about this book I had to read it. The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent is a richly drawn and captivating tale of a family uniting through love in the midst of a terrifying ordeal.

The book starts as a letter from Sarah Carrier Chapman to her beloved grand-daughter in an attempt to clarify their family's history - a history shrouded with whispers, gossip and most of all fear.

The Carriers, Thomas and Martha, and their children 4 boys and two girls Sarah and Hannah move to Andover from nearby Billerica to escape the small pox which has caused a large number of fatalities in the village. Unknown to them their son Andrew already carries the virus and before long there is a small pox epidemic in Andover, which causes more deaths. The townspeople slowly come to hate the Carriers for bringing the disease in their midst.

Martha Carrier, an outspoken and fearless woman rubs against her neighbors the wrong way with her honesty and Thomas Carrier is feared for the role he played in an English uprising. Since there is already bad blood between the neighbors and the Carriers because they do not submit to the religious beliefs of the village, the Carriers live a solitary life. A property dispute arises between Martha Carrier and her sister's family for the house in Andover.

It is in the middle of all these events that a group of girls in nearby Salem Village accuse people of being witches. Very soon, the fear ripping through the counties of Massachusetts reaches Andover and the Carriers are caught up in it's wake.

The story is told through the eyes of 10 year old Sarah, a prickly child not easily loving perceiving herself as unloved because her mother is a cold, no-nonsense woman. I loved her voice observant with the odd maturity of childhood.
A seeping wound can be bound. Salve can be dabbed to a burn of a swelling bubo. Poison can be drawn with a leech, or a lance. But guilt is a ghost that takes the shape of the body it inhabits and consumes all that is tender within its shell: brain, bowels, and heart. I cannot pluck it out like a splinter of glass or treat it with herbal brews.
Sarah's loss of innocence leads her to the understanding of a parent's love and that it need not always be outwardly manifested.

With the subject and the fate of Martha Carrier being well documented, the beauty of the book lies not in the tension of the final outcome, it's the starkness of the prose and simplicity of a harrowing tale told through a child's eyes; of the events as they might have unfolded during that bleak period of 1692 which makes this story so readable.

This book carries some vivid historical detail from the ordinary chores of a farming family, Puritanical beliefs, to descriptions of the prisons where the 'witches' were kept and the horrifying conditions and torture they have to live through. Ms. Kent has done her research, but the story became additionally compelling for me when I learnt that Martha Carrier is her ancestor.

For me I'm fascinated with the psychology by which entire counties, priests, lawyers and judges came to participate in what is a dark period in American history. The author puts forth some theories, the Puritans having their rigid social patterns, fear-mongering due to disease, religion and Indian raids and finally the much too familiar motives of jealousy, greed and hate accompanied with mass hysteria.

The sole criticism I have is that the history of Thomas Carrier isn't clear. He's widely feared and has occupied a pivotal part in British history and this is the major reason he escapes when most men who supported their wives were also accused. But since I'm unfamiliar with the history I didn't really understand his notoriety or his political beliefs.

However, it doesn't take much away from the story and if you are interested in American history read this book. It's unputdownable.



avdi said...

Unputdownable? Let me see if I can find this on any of the Indian Sites.

Your fangs are really out these days Papaya !

eye-in-sty-in said...

wow! And I almost gave this review a miss! Sounds like a book I'd enjoy....!

eye-in-sty-in said...

PS: I'm having trouble with getting followup comments in my inbox

couchpapaya said...

avdi - heh u mean with the non-dictionary words? it's easier than typing out a whole sentence :D

EISI - yay, i finally hit upon a book u cld read!! i knew i'd get there someday (even after the fiasco that was twilight) ... let me know if u do read it!! as for the comments feed, it's a service provided by blogger so am not sure what to do about it. all the settings are fine on my account. maybe you can try and re-subscribe?

Smita said...

I have seen this book on stands!!! You review is tempting me to give it a try!!!

But tell me why is Salem associated with witches?? (I remembered Salem Falls as well).

P.S. If the question sounds stupid do tell me frankly :)

couchpapaya said...

smita - u need to be familiar with american history to understand the association. in 1692-1693, there were a series of trials in some north-eastern american counties where people were prosecuted and killed for being witches. it originated in salem village and towns around it so mostly they are called the salem witch trials. if you want to read more about it, check the wikipedia link i have in the review, it gives the entire history!

Katy said...

I've got a copy of this book waiting to be read. I'm looking forward to it. :)

    I also blog at ....

    Search This Blog

    Currently reading ....

    The Secret Wedding

    Blog Awards

    Blog Awards
    Thanks, Abha

    Thanks, Angel's Flight

    Thanks, Avdi

    Thanks, Nishita