The Witch’s Trinity
Mailman’s second historical novel, set in the small German town of Tierkinddorf between 1507 and 1510, explores the horror of superstition, the inexplicable fear of witchcraft, and the hysterical mentality of the mob.
Tierkenddorf is plagued by a famine of monumental proportions. There is nothing to eat: the animals have all been consumed, the earth is unproductive and the mill is no longer operating. Why should a good Christian community be suffering such deprivation when communities in other parts of Germany are not? The only explanation is that the town has been cursed by witchcraft.
Güde is an old woman who lives with her son, Jost, his wife, Irmeltrud, and their two young children. As deprivation increases, Irmeltrud makes clear that Güde has outlived her usefulness. Already struggling with memory lapses, Güde believes she has signed the devil’s book in the woods after Irmeltrud throws her out into the snow.
After the town herbalist, Künne, Güde’s oldest and best friend, is accused of being a witch and burned at the stake, Irmeltrud accuses Güde of witchcraft. Events deteriorate and ultimately, no one is safe from accusation—not even Güde’s little granddaughter, Alke.
Written in simple, sleek prose, Mailman captures the corruption of fear in a small town to a tee. With a Massachusetts “witch” for an ancestor, Mailman’s interest in the subject of witchcraft hysteria gives her bona fides on a topic to which she brings considerable skill in character development and plot design. The complex, unnerving portrait of Güde is masterful and leaves much to interpretation. The cold, snowy German winter, the pangs of starvation, the abuses of the Church and the resiliency of the people are all palpable images, beautifully executed to maximum impact. Though by no means a “fun read,” this concise novel is a recommended one.