The Knife Sharpener's Bell
by Rhea Tregebov
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.