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May012010

The Cannibal Spirit

The Cannibal Spirit

by Harry Whitehead

The year is 1900. George Hunt has a white father and a native mother. A shaman and chieftain among his people, the Kwagiulth, helplessly he has watched them die—from disease, warfare, alcohol, despair—as their world is besieged by the encroachments of the young country that is Canada. Yet he is also an assistant to the famous anthropologist Franz Boas and a collector of native artefacts for the white man's museums. Hunt inhabits both worlds but can find no peace in either. A bear of a man, daunting in physique and intellect, he is prone to fits of wild rage.

When his son dies of tuberculosis, and he insists on performing the funeral rites of his mother's people, Hunt provokes the fury of the missionaries and the Indian agents, setting in motion a chain of events that will force him to defend what is most important to him, not only with blade and rifle in the remote fastness of the northern British Columbia coastline, but also with his wits and precarious dignity in a Vancouver courtroom.

Based on the life of the real historical figure George Hunt, this astonishing evocation of the fog-wrapped forests of the northwest coast, and the heedless bustle of the arrival of modernity in the midst of an older, beleaguered way of life, tells the story of the grappling of two civilizations in the life of one man.


Praise

"Powerful, ambitious…. Fast-paced and full of surprises…. Lyrically beautiful…. Whitehead … weaves the voices of several characters into a compelling psychological portrait of a people on the brink of ruin."
—The Globe and Mail

"A thriller with a Joseph Conrad-inspired plot … [but also] a psychological novel in disguise…. The book's strength lies in how it depicts Native magic as an experiential reality, respecting the mystery of rituals while avoiding the academic tendency to explain away the sacred."
—The Walrus

"A surrealistic journey into the heart of darkness where different cultural traditions come together in one man."
—North Shore News

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