Book Review: Calligraphy of the Witch

Sometimes, you know, a book just grabs you and won’t let go.  Thus it was this morning, when I woke up thinking of the book Calligraphy of the Witch.  I was near the end of the book, and realized I couldn’t go another minute without knowing how it actually ended.  I took the book out to the backyard picnic table, along with my morning coffee, and proceeded to immerse myself in the world of 17th century Boston.  The coolness of the morning, the spectacular view of the trees, the screeching of the Cooper’s hawks on their morning hunt–all faded away, and I found myself in prison with the main character, Concepcion Benevidez. 

This book was written by a woman with the romantic, poetic, and improbable name of Alicia Gaspar De Alba.  It’s the kind of book I wasn’t sure I’d be able to finish.  It begins with a lot of violence.  Concepcion, who is from Mexico (“New Spain”), has been taken prisoner onboard a pirate ship bound for Massachusetts.  The year is 1683, shortly before the beginning of the Salem witch trials.  Needless to say, she is eventually accused of being a witch, tried, and sentenced to hang.  Spoiler:  she doesn’t hang. 

As I have previously stated elsewhere, I love reading fiction, but not just any fiction. I like fiction that takes me to a different place or time or both.  I find it more illuminating than reading some dry factual account of things.  Therefore, a book like The Kite Runner resonates with me more than something that might be called “The History of Afghanistan”. 

This book had the effect on me of making me count my blessings.  We have come a long way from the U.S. of the late 1600’s.  I’m pretty sure that if I had been alive then that it wouldn’t have lasted long.  Being a sort of contrary person, I’d be dangling from a noose.  It isn’t just slaves who were non-people, it was women too, who were completely at the mercy of their husbands.  Didn’t like what you had for dinner?  Denounce your wife as a witch, claiming she’s trying to poison you.  Once she’s hanged, you’re free to marry your neighor’s cute 13 year-old child. 

Once I finished the book and returned to the real world, I came face to face with the tiniest lizard you can imagine.  I am not the greatest at keeping houseplants alive, which would be an understatement.  However, when my cat Erin died in February, I was given a Peace Lily, and I’ve endeavored to keep it alive, since it seemed to me that letting the plant die would be like Erin dying all over again.    I completely recogize that that is nuts.  Grief is weird. 

The Peace Lily sits on the picnic table.  So there is this tiny lizard, a baby green Anole, light as a feather, perched on one of the leaves of the Peace Lily; so light he (or she) doesn’t even cause the leaf to droop.  I turned my head, and when I looked next, he/she had leaped to another leaf without even a flicker of movement that I noticed. 

Don’t get me wrong here.  I didn’t take this as some message from “Heaven”.   The baby Anoles’s appearance and existence was all by itself wondrous and fortuitous.  I thanked it for sharing part of its day with me.

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4 responses to “Book Review: Calligraphy of the Witch

  1. The last fiction I recall reading was “Confessions of Nat Turner”, which was decades ago. and I was still in my 20’s. I lack the attention span to read over a period of time. I barely manage to get around to some World War 2 non-fiction every now and then. Usually only on long flights to/from the west. That’s probably why I enjoy films – in two hours I get a whole story and I can visualize it all! Not sure I’d have done well “visualizing” Pan’s Labrynith in my mind’s eye.
    May be a different story when I retire and have lots more time on my hands.

  2. I like political books and anything by Tom Clancy, John Grisham, or Dan Brown. I wish that i could have denounced my daughter’s mother as a witch. But then again, she would have missed out on her wedding.

  3. Well, Nick, you can still denounce your daughter’s mother as a witch, it’s just that she won’t be hanged for it. Dang. Don’t you miss the good old days?

  4. Thank you for the very nice review you wrote on Calligraphy of the Witch. I’m always happy to know that my work can move people so deeply. BTW, I love lizards, especially the lesbian lizards who take turns at being male or female. I can’t believe I just spaced out on their name. They’re native to Texas.

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