Heidi Eljarbo’s historical fiction novel, Catching a Witch: A Novel of Loyalty, Deception, and Superstition, is a story about the persecution of witches in Rossby, Norway, in the 17th century.
According to Britannica, witchcraft is the “exercise or invocation of alleged supernatural powers to control people or events, practices typically involving sorcery or magic.” Although difficult to know the exact number, scholars estimate 40-50 thousand people (mostly women) were accused and executed from 14th to 18th century Europe. Preferred ways of killing were drownings and burnings with burning at the stake as favorable since more painful.
Women were accused of witchcraft if they had a mole on their bodies, if they yelled or quarreled, if they were deemed “unstable,” and for other ridiculous reasons. Trials were held for some women, but many times, they were not. The guiding ideology that enabled this horrific period in history was the following biblical verse: “Thou shall not suffer a witch to live.” Heidi Eljarbo brings to light this terror in her novel beautifully.
Set as a framed narrative in 1660, Catching a Witch captures the essence of life in Rossby and the lives of the main characters, Clara and Bess. The character development is first-rate. I easily imagined myself as one of the main characters in the story living in picturesque Rossby by the sea. The conflict in the story arises when a witch hunter from England arrives in town to gather, persecute, and execute women he deems guilty of witchcraft.
The main character, Clara Dahl, is perplexed by the behavior of the townspeople, who instead of fighting for the accused women are swayed by the Englishman’s words and applaud their murders. Thus, human behavior and crowd psychology are the main themes in this reading, along with superstition, love, and community.
The novel ends when a certain townsperson who is rendered the town recluse enables the imprisoned women to flee. There are also a few other surprises to conclude this narrative, and I will not spoil it for you.
I recommend Catching a Witch: A Novel of Loyalty, Deception, and Superstition by Heidi Eljarbo to students of 17th-century European history or anyone curious about European witch hunts. I also urge this reading to those interested in the psychology of crowd behavior. It’s a must-read for feminists.
A bit about the author, Heidi Eljarbo:
Heidi Eljarbo is a historical fiction writer, magazine journalist, and painter. She grew up in a home filled with books and art and never imagined she would do anything other than writing and painting.
In addition to Catching a Witch, Heidi’s novel, Trailing the Hunter: A Novel of Misconception, Truth, and Love, is the sequel to Finding a Witch. I look forward to reading it!
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