From Sparks into Flames

story as sharp as a knife

Open spread from the Folio edition of A Story as Sharp as a Knife

On the surface it seems simple to describe Robert Bringhurst’s A Story as Sharp as a Knife: The Classical Haida Mythtellers and Their World. Bringhurst has taken transcriptions of oral epics collected at the very beginning of the 20th century from the Haida people on the northwest coast of what is now called Canada and brought them to vivid life: so it is a book of translation, we might say; a book of great scholarship. But it is much more than that. It is a thriller. It is an adventure story. It is the story of people who are willing to listen, who find a spark and shepherd it into flame. It is a book of poetry. And it is a book which changed the way I look at the world: not only at literature but at art and life entire.

Read this book, is all I really want to say about A Story as Sharp as a Knife. You will discover works of art which – I’m guessing – you never dreamt existed; you will begin to consider the power of culture to resist destruction. You will reconsider what literature is, and how it is transmitted: and you will, I promise, be breathless with wonder. Astonishing, dazzling, stunning – these are words thrown around lightly these days; but (let’s face it) they are often hyperbole. There is no hyperbole here: this book is all of those things. It is my desert island book. Open it: discover the voices of Skaay, and Ghandl, and that of Robert Bringhurst, who lets them speak again. You will not be sorry. Your life, too, will be changed.

ERICA WAGNER
Author and former literary editor of the Times

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