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Embrace the winter, read a book, head north

 

The mercury has dropped, and it is time to embrace winter for all it is worth. Either that or complain and be miserable. It’s your choice.

With lower temperatures outside comes the ideal opportunity to raise the heat inside, get yourself cozy, and dive into a book.

This year, there’s a perfect page-turner to fill your afternoon on the couch: Tanya Tagaq’s Split Tooth (Penguin Random House, $29.95 hardcover, $14.99 Ebook).

The Inuk throat singer’s first full-length publication is a sometimes beautiful, sometimes brutal, sometimes funny, sometimes gripping panorama of life in Nunavut in the 1970s.

The book grabs a hold of readers from page one, and doesn’t let up.

“Sometimes we would hide in the closet when the drunks came home from the bar,” reads the opening sentence of the book.

The quote is typical of the book with Tagaq setting up tension that is resolved in an unique fashion, which is surprising and delightful.

Nothing is typical about the book.

Rather than be a straight coming-of-age novel following Tagaq through her childhood, it’s a series of portraits, musings, poems and sketches that tell the artist’s life in the north.

Tagaq is adept at capturing all the senses in her words, as she leads readers by the hand through her traditional territory.

“Walking home from school, the country music is loud again,” she writes. “The thumping is metronomic, but the screeches and whoops of the listeners are chaotic.”

The quote leads the reader to a party, but the first-person character does not continue where the reader assumes he or she will find her. Rather, the narrator leads the reader to join her lying on the ice considering the environment and her place among the moon, ice, water, wind and constellations, while she watches the Northern Lights emerge.

“Legend says that if you whistle or scream at them, they will come down and cut off your head,” she writes. “This is ridiculous, but I admit to running home quickly when a whole horizon is full of light and the movement of the roaring green thunder shakes my vertebrae like dice.”

Tagaq’s life is not all beauty, however.

Far from it.

There are some brutal accounts of physical and sexual assault, substance abuse and heart-breaking descriptions of fear. These sections are tough to read, but never despairing, and help to develop a more complete portrait, the goal of any quality memoire.

Split Tooth was longlisted for the 2018 Scotiabank Giller Prize which is completely unsurprising, and, though it didn’t make the short list, it is clear that should Tagaq continue writing, she will claim the prize in the future.

danielr@easterndoor.com

 

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