Penguin acquires Canadian "Heart of Darkness"
Toronto—March 3, 2011—Nick Garrison, Senior Editor at Penguin Canada, has acquired the debut novel The Cannibal Spirit by Harry Whitehead for publication in fall 2011 under the company's prestigious Hamish Hamilton Canada imprint. The book was acquired from agent Isobel Dixon at the Blake Friedmann Literary, TV and Film Agency in London.
Based on a true story, and set on the northwest coast of Canada in 1900, The Cannibal Spirit follows events surrounding the trial on charges of cannibalism of George Hunt, a shaman and chieftain among his people (the Kwagiulth), but also an assistant to the famed anthropologist Franz Boas.
"Every once in a while you come across something totally unexpected," said Garrison, "and I admit that The Cannibal Spirit caught me by surprise. Within just a few lines I knew that Penguin had to publish this book, and the story just kept getting better from there. It's masterful. Somehow, Harry navigates huge themes like the contested ground between reason and myth, between rival cultures, and between human aspiration and human frailty, and he manages to articulate that in an absolutely gripping read. One of my colleagues here read it and immediately called it "The Heart of Canadian Darkness," and that has really stuck. We are delighted to be Harry's publisher."
In the novel, 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 arrival of the twentieth century and the encroachments of the young country called Canada. Yet he is also an assistant to the famed anthropologist Franz Boas, and a collector of native artefacts for the white man's museums. He inhabits both worlds, looking in and looking out, at peace in neither. A bear of a man, he is imposing in body and intellect, yet 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, George provokes the fury of the missionaries and the Indian Agents and sets in motion a chain of events that forces him to defend what is most important to him with blade and rifle in the remote fastness of the northern British Colombia coast.
The novel is told from the dual points of view of George Hunt and his son-in-law, Harry Cadwallader, a white American whisky smuggler forced to trail Hunt into the wilderness and bring him back to justice. When he is finally brought to trial in Vancouver, Hunt is acquitted, much to the disappointment of the prurient white onlookers.
Masterful, unforgettable, and utterly gripping, The Cannibal Spirit broods with nostalgia for a passing world and pounds with relentless tension. 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.
Harry Whitehead has masters degrees in creative writing and medical anthropology and a PhD from Lancaster University. He teaches creative writing at the University of Leicester and worked for many years in film and television.
Hamish Hamilton Canada is an imprint of Penguin Group (Canada), launched in 2009 with the publication of Colin McAdam's Fall and Kim Echlin's The Disappeared, both shortlisted for the 2009 Scotiabank Giller Prize. The first literary imprint to launch in Canada in 20 years, Hamish Hamilton Canada publishes such luminaries as Joseph Boyden, Zadie Smith, David Cronenberg, Michael Winter, Phillip Roth, Reif Larsen, Roberto Bolaño, Zsuzsi Gartner, and Asian Man Booker Prize winner Miguel Syjuco.
The Cannibal Spirit will be published in September 2011.