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 2021 Official Selection
The Rumpus, “What to Read When 2021 Is Just Around the Corner”
"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."
“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