TITLE: The Witches
AUTHOR: Stacy Schiff
RATING: 5 STARS
A book on the Salem Witchcraft? There was NO way I was NOT going to read this one.
I have been fascinated by Salem and all of its history for years. I have spent quite a lot of time in that part of the USA, basically exploring all things "witchcraft" and never getting tired of it. However, in the last decade, the books written on the subject were simply becoming incredibly repetitive, to those of us who have been following the subject matter for many years.
All of this changed, one day, a few months ago, when I was perusing the Hachette catalogue and saw this book - with a scheduled release date of October 2015 (of course!).
I had heard good things about this author, specifically related to her previous book, titled "Cleopatra"and so, I was excited to read "The Witches".
Firstly, this book is huge - with over 500 pages. There is no doub, in my mind, that the author did her research and went far and wide to find every possible available piece of information on this subject matter. This absolutely fascinated me - I mean, Schiff found tidbits, scenarios and players that I had never heard of. Whereas previous books simply touched on certain events or timelines, Schiff brought them to the forefront and gave them a life of their own, as I sat on the sidelines - reliving this dark and scary past. Fascinating!!!!
Let's face it, living in Salem in 1692 would have been pure hell - even without the witch trials. I mean, women had very little to no value, religion ruled and just about everything was not permitted. People were forced to spend hours and hours at church, freezing or sweltering, while sitting on hard benches, listening to the minister pontificate and go on and on about sin and the devil. Some townspeople were vindictive and, as always, there were very specific economic/social classes. Oh and let us not forgot the constant fear of being attacked by the Indians. In short - hell on earth. Schiff focuses her story quite extensively on setting up this part for her readers - effectively making me feel sorry for every person living there, at that time. This, of course, made me view the rest of the story (and book) in a different manner.
The question, therefore, begged to be asked - after living in such extreme prejudice and hardship, was it such a huge leap to believe that several young girls, living in that time period, would go to this length to create havoc and destroy lives just to get the attention (any attention) from the townspeople, the clergy and their parents? Interestingly, while there are various schools of thoughts on what the motives behind the Salem witch trial triggers were, Schiff does an outstanding job of giving us "just the facts" - leaving it to her readers to come to their own conclusions as to the "why" behind these horrific events.
Additionally, the author is also very forthright in informing us that much of the transcripts and writings, for this time period, were either lost or destroyed and those surviving documents are often confusing and contradictory. Having said this, however, this book is amazingly unbiased and compelling.
I admit it, after I finished the book, I realized how little I actually knew about this time period, despite having read dozens of books on the subject matter. In fact, I also realize how simplistic my view of the entire thing was. "Bored girls start something they don't know how to stop" - "people get swept up in the whole thing in tandem with judges who were power hungry" "poor innocents tortured and killed". In truth, it was so much more involved, crazy and scary than all of that. This book deftly uncovers the layers and layers clearly showing us that not even the central people involved in the events really understood, whether it was during or after, exactly what happened and how things went off the rails so tragically.
My only negative - At times, I felt my interest weaning because the book was just so dense, information wise, it felt overwhelming. It could have been shorter.
However, this is, without a doubt, THE most definitive, compelling read I have ever experienced on the Salem Witch Trials.
It still drives me crazy though that nobody, to date, has come up with the absolute answer as to the why/how this whole thing started in the first place. It is crazy that with all of our advanced methods, we still can't figure it out!