Book: The Hangman’s Daughter (Oliver Pötzsch, trans. Lee Chadeayne)
Looks: Tall and strong, with unruly hair and wide eyebrows
Personality: Practical yet wishful. Smart and funny. Methodical. Enigmatic. A kinder and gentler person than many would believe.
Hangmen, though necessary in 17th century Europe, are considered pariahs, and do not lead the happiest of lives. 12 year-old Jakob has grown up seeing his father drink himself into a stupor; and after the traumatic opening events of The Hangman’s Daughter, Jakob vows he will never follow in his father’s footsteps and become a hangman. It’s gruesome and terrible work, and every hangman carries with him the taint of blood and fear.
And yet the second chapter shows Jakob firmly ensconced in his role of torturer and killer in the village of Schongau. He experiences, and sees his oldest daughter experience, the same pseudo-exile as did his father. And yet he stays — because every town needs a hangman.
Just as every murder needs a scapegoat.
Why I love this character
I’m about three-quarters of the way through The Hangman’s Daughter, and am fascinated by Jakob, who is full of contradictions.
At 12 he vows to never become a hangman, yet ends up as one anyway. His job is to interrogate (read: torture) people accused of crimes and hear their confession. He must torture a person one day and heal them the next. He is meant to be an impassive tool of the town council, but can’t seem to keep his mouth shut. He knows what is expected of his daughter, but wants more for her.
What I love most about Jakob is his determination and sense of honor. He realizes that something is amiss with the town’s persecution of a “witch,” and won’t let that niggling sensation go. He risks his own neck to save those of others.
There are so many juxtapositions and facets to Jakob, and I hope that Pötzsch brings him some happiness and his novel to a solid (and maybe at least a little happy) conclusion.