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Split Tooth Reader’s Guide

By Tanya Tagaq

Split Tooth by Tanya Tagaq


Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. While Split Tooth is formally categorized as fiction, Tanya Tagaq’s style of Indigenous storytelling resonates beyond the genre. How would you describe this book to a friend? Take turns sharing what you think the novel is about.

2. Discuss what you think some of Tagaq’s influences were, and what aspects of the story (if anything) could have been drawn from real-life experiences. Do you think there is anything the author wants us to understand about her life?

3. The narrative structure of Split Tooth is potent and unique: the chapters are unnamed and unnumbered, each punctuated by a poem, and occasionally accompanied by a spare line drawing (by Jamie Hernandez). How did this structure inform your experience as a reader or complement the story? Did you decipher the Inuktitut poem?

4. What are your impressions of the physical book? The jacket illustration, the spacious page design: did they influence your reading experience? Would you consider listening to the audiobook (narrated by the author) for a completely different experience?

5. What aspects of the narrative resonated with you the most in this glimpse into the lives of youth growing up in a rural northern community in the 70s and 80s? If you are a non-Indigenous person, did you align with any specific elements of the story? What did you find the most transformative?

6. Why do you think the protagonist, and many of the major characters, remains nameless throughout the story? 

7. “Snow is fickle. Snow picks itself up and goes wherever Wind tells it to. One element controls the other in a cyclical oblivion.” (pp 37) How do the Artic landscape, the weather, and the drawn-out seasons shape the characters in Split Tooth

8. “I’m running. Hair in face, ice in lung, heavy of foot. Sometimes they are too slow to catch me.” (pp 105) The phrase “ice in lung” appears often throughout the main narrative, as well as in almost every poem. What do you think the meaning behind it is?

9. “The pain was real. This is where my lesson was learned: pain is to be expected, courage is to be welcomed. There is no choice but to endure. . . .  The sun can rise, and so can I.” (pp 122) Examine the significance and incidences of pain, rape, shame, and courage that arise throughout the story. 

10. “He shot me with truth and the burden of our bodies. I saw in an instant the spiritual world we all ignore. Like the radio waves we can’t see, it is everywhere.” (pp 69) The narrator’s first (consensual) sexual experience is with a fox, and it triggered a sort of shamanic awakening that galvanized her spiritual connection to nature. Discuss the interplay and encounters between the physical and the spiritual world that are a hallmark of this story.

11. “Sedna the Sea Goddess came before Christianity. She came from the time when the land was our Lord, and we were her servants.” (pp 85) What are the implications and complications of Christianity on Inuk culture that are expressed throughout the narrative?

12. “Society dictates the rules of what is acceptable, but in reality there are only the rules of nature. Natural law.” (pp 51) The narrator conceives twins with the Northern Lights. What, if anything, do you think the twins symbolize? How did you interpret her relationship with this natural phenomena?

13. Helen the midwife bears witness to the mythical birth of Savik and Naja, but then the twins (in a mythical scene via their umbilicus) eradicate the memory. Why do you think Helen was spared the knowledge of the twins cosmic birth?

14. “They sleep in a yin-yang position. Their bodies melt into each other.” (pp 162) Why do you think Tagaq pointedly gave the twins, Savik and Naja, Inuk names? 

15. “We all give ourselves to people that cannot help themselves. How can we not?” (pp 171) Take a moment to consider the nuances of the twins’ personalities, and the role of Best Boy in the “family” dynamic. 

16. “It is so cold outside. The cold is slapping my exposed cheeks and hardening my resolve.” (pp 180) What did you think of the ending? Was there a lesson, and if so, what was it?

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