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The Knife Sharpener's Bell

by Rhea Tregebov

The Knife Sharpener's Bell

This testament to the tenacity of the human spirit is the seldom-told story of people who travelled from depression-era Winnipeg to a hoped-for better life in the "stable" Soviet Union.

Annette Gershon's odyssey from depression-era Winnipeg to Stalinist Russia and back to Canada in the 1950s is both the seldom-told story of those who actually made that hopeful, doomed, journey, and a testament to the tenacity of the human spirit.

Ten-year old Annette Gershon is content enough growing up in her father's delicatessen on Main Street Winnipeg, but for immigrant families scratching out a living in the Dirty Thirties, even subsistence is a delicate balance, easily upset. Everything changes when her parents decide to take the family "home" to the Soviet Union to escape the devastation of the collapsing capitalist economy.

Annette struggles to maintain her sense of who she is, first adapting to her life in Stalinist Odessa, then fleeing to Moscow, ahead of the Nazi occupation. But it is in the post-war years that her identity, and her very life, are threatened by the anti-Semitism of Stalinism's final years.

The Knife Sharpener's Bell is the story of a girl who tried to stop a train, but finds herself on the runaway train of historical events. It is a story about loyalty and betrayal, heroism and fear. What is most memorable about it is the empathy we feel for these characters, who must make their way through some of the twentieth century's most tumultuous events.

The writing is infused with a poet's sensitivities to rhythm, image, and linguistic energy, yet it is also beautifully restrained - each image and each gorgeous observation is there for a very particular reason; the entire story hums with the tension that arises from the taut, athletic language.

*Coteau Books has made?The Knife Sharpener's Bell?available in alternate formats in cooperation with?NNELS.


5.5" x 8.5" 304 pages
21.0 CDN; 19.0 USD
E-Book Price
Fiction Tradepaper Adult
Rhea Tregebov
Author Photo

About the Author

Born in Saskatoon and raised in Winnipeg, Rhea received her undergraduate education in Winnipeg. She did postgraduate studies at Cornell and Boston Universities.

For many years she worked as a freelance writer and editor in Toronto, where she also taught creative writing for Ryerson Continuing Education. She is now Associate Professor of Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia, where she teaches poetry, translation and children's literature.

Tregebov is the author of seven critically acclaimed books of poetry, most recently All Souls' (Signal Editions, Vehicule Press, 2012). She has also published five popular children's picture books including The Big Storm and What-If Sara, which are set in Winnipeg. She has edited ten anthologies of essays, poetry and fiction, most recently Arguing with the Storm. Her work has received a number of literary prizes, including the Tiny Torgi award (for The Big Storm) as well as the Pat Lowther Award, Prairie Schooner Readers' Choice Award, and the Malahat Review Long Poem Award for her poetry. The Knife Sharpener's Bell is her first novel.

From the Author: I made the transition from poet to novelist because a plot seized me by the throat. The Knife Sharpener's Bell originated in two pieces of family history. One is the story of my maternal grandfather's plans, in 1935, to take his family back to Mother Russia. He had left Tzarist Russia before the First World War and met my grandmother in Canada. Both shared strong left-wing beliefs. And when the economy came crashing down (then as now) in the Western World, my grandparents decided the best thing to do for their family would be to take them to the Workers' Paradise, the Soviet Union. As fate would have it, my grandfather's trip back in 1935 to the Soviet Union did not result in permission to immigrate. But that alternate history and its consequences has haunted me all my life. As has my mother's story of hiding on the train that was to take her father to Halifax for the trip to Europe. This scene is the prologue to the novel.

The second bit of history has to do with Vladlen Furman, to whom (with my mother) the book is dedicated. This distant cousin, who was living at the time in Moscow, became active in one of the early dissident movements in the Soviet Union. In the anti-Semitic hysteria of those post-war years, he was arrested, along with a number of other young people. Stalin arranged for a show trial in 1950. These young people, whose ages ranged from 17 to 21, were prosecuted for treason and terrorism and found guilty. Their crime had been to think that perhaps socialism had not reached perfection within the Soviet state.

Our family in Canada did not discover the truth of Vladlen's story until 1975, when my Canadian-born mother first travelled to the Soviet Union and met the surviving family. Writing this novel covered the span of a decade as I tried to uncover the meaning of this personal history and the reflections that it casts on our tempestuous present. I was writing during what seemed like the zenith of the capitalist system. This story of the Depression and its effects now carries further resonance.



Winner – J.I. Segal 2010 Awards, Prize in English Fiction and Poetry on a Jewish Theme
Silver – PubWest Book Design Awards, Cover Design Category
Shortlisted – ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Awards, Fiction Category
Nominated – Award for Publishing, Saskatchewan Book Awards 2009

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