The Witches: Salem, 1692, by Stacy Schiff, is a historical work of nonfiction that reads like a twisting, turning mystery. Schiff pulls back the curtain on this bizarre episode in American history to reveal the underbelly of the unnerving story. Her writing is mesmerizing as she chooses real characters from history and breathes life into them. Though the story of the Salem Witch Trials has been studied and retold by many, Schiff uses her formidable talents as a researcher and storyteller to give readers another view into the episode.
The book covers the historical episode, which began in 1692 and only lasted about nine months. By the end of those nine months, 19 people had been executed for witchcraft. The book includes 16 pages of pictures of court documents, images of the players in the drama and historical depictions of witches and witchcraft.
When asked why she decided to write about Salem, Schiff said, “Salem stands among our first great unresolved mysteries, our original courtroom drama. Most tragically, the papers from the actual trials have been lost. We have only pages from the preliminary hearings, a few death warrants, confessions, and petitions. In several cases, testimony was doctored after the fact; accusations against some of those who hanged, for example, were beefed up after their executions. And overall the year evaporated from diaries. It was as if the whole episode could be erased if the papers could be destroyed.
That is particularly ironic, as the Puritans were maniacal record-keepers. They did not like for anything to be forgotten. The real conspiracy was the silence afterward.”
Schiff won the Pulitzer Prize for her biography, Véra (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov). She also wrote Cleopatra and A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America, for which she won the George Washington Book Prize.
Schiff will be speaking at The Friends of the Port Washington Library’s (FOL) 47th Annual Book & Author Luncheon, which will be held Friday, May 13, at the North Hills Country Club in Manhasset. Best-selling author Susan Isaacs is the program moderator. Reservation brochures will be available beginning April 1 in the library and online at www.pwpl.org/fol. Tickets will be $75 each.
Film rights for the book have been optioned by Scott Rudin/Sony Pictures. For more information go to www.stacyschiff.com.
The Witches: Salem, 1692 (Little, Brown; Oct. 27, 2015; $32).