Sunday, 1 September 2013

Six Women of Salem: The Untold Story of the Accused and Their Accusers in the Salem Witch Trials By Marilynne K. Roach Review

Review By Patrick Challis

Written By Marilynne K. Roach

Published By Perseus Books Group, Da Capo Press

Genre
Biography, Historical

Synopsis

Six Women of Salem is the first work to use the lives of a select number of representative women as a microcosm to illuminate the larger crisis of the Salem witch trials. By the end of the trials, beyond the twenty who were executed and the five who perished in prison, 207 individuals had been accused, 74 had been “afflicted,” 32 had officially accused their fellow neighbors, and 255 ordinary people had been inexorably drawn into that ruinous and murderous vortex, and this doesn’t include the religious, judicial, and governmental leaders. All this adds up to what the Rev. Cotton Mather called “a desolation of names.”

The individuals involved are too often reduced to stock characters and stereotypes when accuracy is sacrificed to indignation. And although the flood of names and detail in the history of an extraordinary event like the Salem witch trials can swamp the individual lives involved, individuals still deserve to be remembered and, in remembering specific lives, modern readers can benefit from such historical intimacy.

By examining the lives of six specific women, Marilynne Roach shows readers what it was like to be present throughout this horrific time and how it was impossible to live through it unchanged.

Review

As someone who has always been interested in history and in the Salem witch trials, I was massively eager to get my hands on a book like this one, especially considering it's written by Marilynne K. Roach.  Roach is one of the foremost minds for anything Salem related and has authored some very well written books on the subject.

Would this book, yet another addition in to quite a crowded genre, live up to the promise sent by either her earlier works or by some of the classics written about this moment in history?

I have to admit that this is and was one of the best accounts of one of the most infamous moments in our history that I have read in a very long time.  Roach decided to go a brave route and instead of just doing an all encompassing book about the subject, she took the life stories of six separate women and wrote about every facet of their life up to and including the trials.  That was a very good idea because of the sheer strength and passion in her writing and that makes you really feel like you're a part of these women's lives.

With a lot of books in this genre, they have a habit of beating you over the head with facts and figures yet that's not the case here.  Somehow Roach has juggled the fact that the book needed to be informative yet also made it very personal and emotional.  Not once did that approach fall in to melodrama however.  That for me, made for a very pleasant surprise.  I honestly couldn't and didn't want to put this book down.  It has that 'just one more page' feel to it that all great books have.

If you are even remotely interested in one of the grizzliest moments in history then I strongly urge you to pick up this book.  It's superbly and intelligently written with an emotional and personal edge that make this head and shoulders above some of the other attempts to write about the Salem witch trials.

Presentation 4/5
Informative 5/5
Recommended 4.5/5
Overall 13.5/15

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