The story begins in 1618. Plague is spreading. The Thirty Years' War has begun, and fear and suspicion are in the air throughout the Holy Roman Empire.
In the small town of Leonberg, Katharina Kepler is an illiterate widow, known by her neighbors for her herbal remedies and the success of her children, including her eldest, Johannes, who is the Imperial Mathematician and renowned author of the laws of planetary motion. So when the deranged and insipid Ursula Reinbold accuses Katharina of offering her a witchy drink that has made her ill, Katharina is in trouble. Her scientist son must turn his attention from the music of the spheres to the job of defending his mother.The story of how a community becomes implicated in collective aggression and hysterical fear is a tale for our time.
Galchen's bold new novel touchingly illuminates a society and a family undone by superstition, the state, and the mortal convulsions of history.