This amazingly wise and nimble collection investigates the horrors inflicted on so-called “witches” of the past. The Witch of Eye unearths salves, potions, and spells meant to heal, yet interpreted by inquisitors as evidence of evil. The author describes torture and forced confessions alongside accounts of gentleness of legendary midwives. In one essay about a trial, we learn through folklore that Jesus’s mother was a midwife who cured her own son’s rheumatism. In other essays there are subtle parallels to contemporary discourse around abortion and environmental destruction. Nuernberger weaves in her own experiences, too. There’s an ironic look at her own wedding, an uncomfortable visit to the Prague Museum of Torture, and an afternoon spent tearing out a garden in a mercurial fit. Her researched material is eye-opening, lively, and often funny. An absolutely thrilling collection.
Reading Group Choices, Most Read Books from RGC 2021
Reading Group Choices 2021 Official Selection
2021 Foreword INDIES Finalist for Essays
Publishers Weekly, "Books for Short Attention Spans 2021"
Entropy, “Best of 2020-2021: Nonfiction Books”
The Rumpus, “What to Read When You Want to Celebrate Women’s History”
The Rumpus, “What to Read When 2021 Is Just Around the Corner”
The Week, "Megan Giddings' 6 Favorite Magical Books"
"Part memoir, part cultural criticism, entirely fascinating."
—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
"Drawing connections to contemporary social justice issues, philosophy, and feminism, poet and essayist Nuernberger relates a social history of so-called witches across centuries and the globe. In brief, lyrical retellings, she profiles women including Walpurga Hausmännin, a midwife executed for witchcraft in 16th-century Bavaria, and Maria Gonçalves Cajada, convicted of sorcery in 17th-century colonial Brazil. Their stories become a lens on Nuernberger’s own experiences, whether as simple as a walk in the forest, as disturbing as a visit to the Prague Museum of Torture, or as personal as her wedding."
—“Books for Short Attention Spans 2021,” Publishers Weekly
"This book is a social history, threaded through with folklore, mythology, current events, and glimpses into the author's own marriage. It is a poetic and hypnotic trance of a read."
"The Witch of Eye turns its gaze on the witches of history and the multiplicity of narratives about their experiences which nearly always drained into one gutter: the official witch trial court transcriptions. Kathryn Nuernberger reminds us that the women’s forced confessions and shouted-down explanations have become the only 'historical' records, but in refusing to accept the voice of a predominantly white male justice system as the singular truth, Nuernberger uses her own experiences—along with contemporary court cases—to offer a voice to those women who also longed to deface the historical record but were not permitted to speak."
—"7 Experimental Books Reshaping Historical Narratives," Electric Literature
"This is quintessential reading not just for the wannabe witches among us, but for its nuanced telling of a cruel and silenced history. A compendium of pungent and poignant biographical narratives of numerous so-called witches, The Witch of Eye is difficult to put down. Nuernberger deftly weaves memoir with well-researched material to create a fascinating, idiosyncratic intellectual history, plucked from the annals of science, medicine, theology, and feminist and critical theory. . . .you must read The Witch of Eye slowly and with astonishment, not unlike the way you witness the work of a camera placed next to a bud that slowly and inexplicably blossoms before your eyes."
—"LANGUAGE IS THE SPELL: KATHRYN NUERNBERGER’S THE WITCH OF EYE," The Rumpus
"The breadth of [The Witch of Eye's] exploration is made possible in part due to Nuernberger’s nimble, probing thought, which propels this book as it visits both reality and unreality. Her propensity to question given truths foregrounds the book with wonder as Nuernberger identifies with history’s reported 'witches' for the potential she sees in their alternate, subjective, previously unspoken narratives. Nuernberger’s The Witch of Eye cultivates a space of wonder, a mystical space in which one may co-author reality alongside myth, science, religion, justice, and witchcraft—a space to ponder the well-kept secrets of humanity."
—Southeast Review, online
"Kathryn Nuernberger's essay collection The Witch of Eye delves into lives both past and present with amazing clarity to share their truths."
—Largehearted Boy, online
—Monitor Saint Paul, online and print
"These essays are rich, dense with information and images, and yet so clear-eyed in their focus and project. Like the hagstones—the naturally-occurring stones with holes, the 'stone monocle' she describes in 'The Eye of the Hagstone'—'they can help you see what is real.'"
"A beautifully written blend of poetry, nonfiction, and research."
—"Megan Giddings' 6 Favorite Magical Books," The Week
"The Witch of Eye is a stunning book of essays, at turns contemplative, and vehement in its insistence that we not look away from not only our history, but who we as a society still are today."
—Mom Egg Review, online and print
"The essays accomplish what essays do best. They dive into these lives to see what the past can reveal about us and our world today. Or as the author says: 'I wonder about … what in each of us is a little bit witch.'"
—Reading Group Choices blog
“Kathryn Nuernberger is the witch of seeing clearly and telling all the truths at once. Her searing, all-seeing EYE casts a brilliant spell of honesty and power. In language ranging from the meditative to the brutally funny. Nuernberger stitches histories and hexes together, elegantly tracing the threads between how we talk about violence, nature, industry, and culture. This is a collection of wild and astonishing scope—excavating the past in ways that are entirely modern and necessary.”
—V. V. Ganeshananthan, author of Love Marriage
“A magnificent book, full of incidental pleasures, and incidental terrors, and fundamental truths. Nuernberger writes like a Baudelaire who instead of walking across a city can walk across time.”
—Rivka Galchen, author of Little Labors
“Seething with the historical, the scholarly, and the personal, The Witch of Eye is an igneous cauldron for the witchiest of intellectuals and revolutionaries. Dip in a ladle and pull out the blistering truths of how women are seen, how women see themselves. Nuernberger has mixed this potion with the subtlety of Rachel Cusk and the sharpness of Ágota Kristóf, and the result is a twisting, profound, shape-shifting work of art, an incisive elixir to be consumed again and again.”
—Sharma Shields, author of The Cassandra
“Kathryn Nuernberger’s investigations of historic witch trials and their contemporary echoes perform linguistic sorcery. In Salem courtrooms and university Title IX panels, the essays in The Witch of Eye interrogate the interrogators, asking what cruelties we allow, revel in, mythologize, turn away from. They stay up late, parsing spells: a walk in the woods, a black toad hung up by its heels, lavender wine. What will make us whole? They root around in centuries of testimony, sorting truth from lies and bravery from cowardice, then haul out the necessary witch, the one we need for survival.”
—Kim Todd, author of Chrysalis: Maria Sibylla Merian and the Secrets of Metamorphosis