Kathleen Kaufman’s Hag is a superb novel of heritage and struggle while also being a witch story that breaks the mold. Ham-fisted spookiness or ethereal nonsense is replaced by evocative settings and authentically earned emotion. Kaufman’s story follows the Cailleach, a Gaelic deity, and her descendants from pre-history to the modern day. The book tells the coming-of-age tale of Alice Grace, a Scottish girl emigrating from Edinburgh to Colorado Springs and growing up in the middle 20th century. Unique to Alice Grace is the deep history of her mothers going back to the Cailleach herself. This history reveals an intuitive kind of magic that is meant to heal and help, but it’s also one that is all too often persecuted due to baseless fear and an urge for power no matter how trivial or localized. It can’t be stressed enough how deftly Kaufman has put together a matriarchal lineage story that in no way feels tired or labored but is instead vibrant and moving.
A major theme of Hag is the decision to be a participant in a social ritual existing throughout all time, if not outside it. Readers best experience this through Alice Grace, who is aware of her abilities, embracing them but at the same time feeling hesitant about revealing them to others. She can see the life path of every person she meets. It exists as “an invisible wall” preventing them from knowing their fate unless Alice reveals it. She butts up against a culture with a very limited sense of time and almost zero understanding of their own place in the world. We read as the Cailleach and Alice Grace push back against “the futility of knowing.” They also stand against the entrenched sexism of their cultures throughout time, and we see how our contemporary moment really isn’t as civilized as we often believe it to be. Hag is a surprisingly tender novel successfully grounded in both the fantastic and the real, making the story a powerful one for readers.
This page was created by an City Book Review staff member.
|Page Count||336 pages|
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