The Hangman’s Daughter is an odd work of historical fiction by Oliver Potzsch. Originally written in German, it has become one of America’s most buzzed about books. Perhaps some of the oddness is caused by the translation. Or because I don’t really find that the story of an executioner in 17th Century Bavaria to be all that compelling.
The people of Schongau are ignorant and poor. They are suspicious of any newcomer or of any new ideas. They toss human waste in the streets, and blame witches for the illnesses that befall the community. The justice system consists of the community leaders arresting someone, and torturing them until they confess. If they confess, they are therefore guilty and then executed. If they do not confess, they are tortured until they die. The moral: be nice to your neighbors!
Hangman Jakob Kuisl is the most educated and forward thinking man in Schongau. While it is his job to torture and execute prisoners, he also possesses a working knowledge of herbs and cures. So while he is shunned by the community because of his profession, they also go to him when they are sick. His daughter Magdalena is supposed to marry someone from another executioner’s family. However, she is love with Simon Schreevogl, the university-educated son of the town physician.
As the book opens, a young boy is murdered. The midwife is arrested and accused of witchcraft. Villagers loot her house. Jakob believes in her innocence, and sets out to prove it with the assistance of Simon and Magdalena.
I do think that many people will this book interesting and well-written. I found it dreary and disturbing. To each his own!
Published in softcover-AmazonCrossing-2010