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The Cannibal Spirit [Hardcover]

Harry Whitehead
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

Oct. 11 2011

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.


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“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 Magazine

“Engaging.” - The Vancouver Observer

“Unflinching and rigorously unsentimental, The Cannibal Spirit is a thought-provoking and impressive read.” - Quill & Quire

“A surrealistic journey into the heart of darkness where different cultural traditions come together in one man.” - North Shore News --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

Harry Whitehead was born in London. He lived in the Far East for several years in his twenties. Back in London, he worked as a location manager in the film business while studying for degrees in anthropology and a Ph.D. in creative writing, a subject he now teaches at the University of Leicester. He has published short stories and non-fiction in a variety on genres. The Cannibal Spirit is his first novel.

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5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful read May 18 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a rare treat of a book! I had my reservations about ordering it as I was not too sure about the historical setting and thought it might be a bit dry. But as soon as you get into it, you get swept up in the setting and involved with the characters. It's set in 1900, and based on the real-life historical figure George Hunt, who comes to symbolise two different cultures. On the one hand, he is deeply a part of the old way of life among the Kwagiulth in British Columbia - a native chieftain and important part of the community. But on the other hand, he can see that this life is changing and a new century is coming - the book is all about how people struggle with different identities and changing times. I loved the portrayal of George's son-in-law Harry, quite a feckless character who in spite of himself ends up getting passionately involved with the struggles of the native people. The way Whitehead evokes the Canadian landscape is absolutely stunning - really makes you feel part of another world. He does a great job of bringing this distant time and place alive, partly through dialogue which is cleverly done [different but also readable] and especially through his descriptions.
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