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James Houston.

Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, c1980, 1982.
(New Canadian Library #173).
277pp, paper, $5.95.
ISBN 0-7710-9324-1.

Grades 9 and up.
Reviewed by Ruth Denyer.

Volume 11 Number 6.
1983 November.

As in The White Dawn, Houston's story is primarily concerned with the Inuit culture. The author, however, adopts the vehicle of autobiography to present the story of Shoona, a Baffin Island Inuit who is known among his people as a shaman, a religious figure who possesses supernatural powers.

Shoona rises from a life of absolute poverty to one of relative leisure after being "adopted" by a group of elder Shamans. As part of his initiation, Shoona must fast in isolation and attempt to find "a trail to travel on that leads between this land of Tall Clouds and that frightening world of spirits." He also learns the trickery, sleight-of-hand, and secret language needed to produce the type of magic the Inuit believe will heal their sick—and profits handsomely. Shoona, however, struggles within himself to understand the visions and spirits that haunt him, constantly questioning the truth of such powers and, at times, rejecting them in order to adopt the lifestyle of a hunter.

It is only after the mysterious white man arrives, one who appears to possess truly magical powers, that Shoona's ability to control his wizardry emerges. The white man persists in violating Inuit religious beliefs and alienates Shoona from his wife Elisapee, thus setting the stage for battle between the two men, which results in an exciting climax.

Houston conveys a sense of the inextricable bond that exists between the mystical and Inuit life and yet manages to present the supernatural as an ambiguous entity whose existence and meaning the reader must interpret. Perhaps the greatest strength of Spirit Wrestler lies in its portrayal of the daily process of living, in its depiction of the beliefs and principles by which the Inuit live.

Although most may think of the Arctic as a desolate wasteland, Houston provides us with both fascinating characters and subject matter and presents the whole package in an utterly readable style. Highly recommended.

Ruth Denyer, Toronto, ON.
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