Rivka Galchen

Rivka Galchen’s Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch, a novel, is out now.

Whack-a-Mole: Anti-Vax Sentiments

Rivka Galchen, 27 January 2022

In the late​ 1840s, the Hungarian obstetrician Ignaz Semmelweis oversaw two free maternity clinics in Vienna. The clinics accepted patients on alternate days. At the first clinic the mortality rate was 10 per cent; at the second, it was 4 per cent. The clinic with the low mortality rate trained midwives. The clinic with the high mortality rate trained medical students. Fear of the medical...

A Mystery to Itself: What is a brain?

Rivka Galchen, 22 April 2021

We are nearing the point of really understanding the nervous system of the stomach of a crustacean – but we aren’t there yet. At the same time, technologies exist that allow paralysed patients to move robotic arms with their thoughts. It feels at once like the year 1900 and the year 3000.

Her Big Horse Face: Clarice Lispector

Rivka Galchen, 2 April 2020

Clarice Lispector​ was born in 1920 to Jewish parents, in the small town of Chechelnik in Ukraine. It was hoped that the pregnancy would cure her mother’s syphilis, contracted when she was raped by a gang of Russian soldiers. The attempted cure failed. In 1921, the family made their way to Romania and eventually to Brazil. There, her father pushed a cart through the poorest parts of...

Shonagon is hot: 'The Pillow Book'

Rivka Galchen, 2 January 2020

ThePillow Book was written in Japan more than a thousand years ago. Little is known about its author, Sei Shonagon, save for what can be deduced from the text itself. In 993, when she was in her late twenties, she joined the court of Empress Teishi. During the Heian period (794-1186), ‘empress’ was a flexible term: Teishi was merely the first among a number of consorts with...

Can we eat them? Knausgaard’s Escape

Rivka Galchen, 24 January 2019

A century​ or so ago the astronomer Percival Lowell made a series of maps of Venus that showed curious spokes running across the planet’s surface. The lines were difficult to understand; no one else had observed them. Were they canals, or craters? And how was Lowell seeing them through the thick cloud of Venus’s atmosphere? In 2002, Sky and Telescope magazine ran an article...

And where is Katharina? At her trial, the prosecution argues that there are evils and evils: complicated, faraway evils, such as war, which no municipal ruling can fix, and local, finite evils, such as...

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