Growing up, I was very fortunate to have my maternal grandmother and her husband work in the tourism industry in Williamsburg, Virginia. I got an early exposure to colonial America to go along with my always strong love of history in general. Naturally, I have also been interested in the happenings in Salem, Massachusetts, knowing it can be very difficult to separate fact from fiction from urban legend.
Enter this wonderful book by Marilynne K. Roach. It should be noted before beginning that this is not Roach’s first rodeo when it comes to scholarly work on the Salem witch trials. She’s well-respected in that area as a quick Google search will reveal.
That said, what Roach brings to the table with this offering is humanization of the accused as well as providing a smaller scope of the trials. Rather than looking at the trials in a larger overview, she takes six women accused of being witches and gets into extraordinary detail about their lives. With each woman, she digs into their family, genealogy and the events surrounding the accusations against them and subsequent trial.
This works very well to humanize the accused, as you can see them as individual persons, not just numbers or statistics. Additionally, Roach makes an effort to get into each woman’s head to try and see the happenings through their eyes. This further brings the subject to a more personal level.
The only downside of the book is that it does get tedious at times. It took me a bit before I really got rolling, once I finished the first woman’s story. Then I got into a flow with the remaining stories. But considering this is first and foremost a scholarly / academic work, not a piece of fiction, I am perfectly willing to sacrifice a fun read for a historically accurate read. In that, Roach is outstanding.
I definitely recommend this book for anyone interested in history, be it Colonial America, women’s studies, witchcraft, law, whatever. It certainly seems to be very well done.
Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)