SPLIT TOOTH by Tanya Tagaq


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This debut from acclaimed Inuit throat singer Tagaq (her album “Animism” won the 2014 Polaris Music Prize) is a shamanic coming-of-age journey through a haunted and mystical Arctic landscape.

In 1975, a fierce and tomboyish 11-year-old Inuit girl growing up in the northern Canadian territory of Nunavut discovers her shamanic powers at the onset of puberty. Wielding words as sharp as shale rocks and ice, Tagaq narrates the story from the unnamed girl’s perspective with poems woven in between prose vignettes. In “The First Time it Happened,” the girl describes the experience of falling into a trance, being attacked by a supernatural being, and the sensation of her “spirit self” leaving her body. Despite the threat of possession, she says, “I am not afraid, only curious. I don’t feel like prey. I too am a predator.” This empowering initiatory experience is the catalyst for a series of bizarre and delicious excursions into the spirit world which occur throughout her teen years. Her astral flights are a reclaiming of her spiritual heritage and the “shaman’s way” as well as a means of escape from the drunks at home, school bullies, and the roving hands of her teacher. Her animistic view of the universe helps her cope with these everyday problems in terms of spiritual warfare. Sometimes the narrator’s voice shifts to philosophical musings and words of wisdom that may seem far beyond the years of a teenager. When speaking of the rampant alcoholism in her family, she says, “There are evil beings in the room near the ceiling waiting to take over the drunken bodies, Grudges and Frustrations slobbering at the chance to return to human form, to violate, to kill, to fornicate.” Finding solace in nature, she sings to the sky, and it is beneath the eerie green glow of the northern lights that she conceives with a mysterious celestial lover and is irrevocably transformed.

A raw, powerful voice breathes fresh air into traditional Inuit folklore to create a modern tale of mythological proportions.

Pub Date: Sept. 25th, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-670-07009-1
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2018


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