The Knife Sharpener’s Bell


ISBN-13: 978-1-55050-408-8

$21CAD/$19USD  September 2009


Manitoba Reads Shortlist: The Knife Sharpener’s Bell was selected as one of four books short-listed for Manitoba Reads, a contest sponsored in partnership with CBC Manitoba, McNally Robinson Booksellers and THIN AIR, the Winnipeg International Writers Festival. A panel of experts initially selected a long list of 12 books and readers then chose the top four best Manitoba books for summer reading. These four were debated by a panel of literary pros in front of a live audience on September 21, 2012 as part of the launch for THIN AIR 2012.

Shortlisted, Kobzar 2012 Literary AwardThe Knife Sharpener’s Bell was a finalist for the Shevchenko Foundation’s $25,000 biennial  Kobzar Literary Award. The Award recognizes outstanding contributions to Canadian literary arts by authors who develop a Ukrainian Canadian theme with literary merit. Jurors for the 2012 competition were Denise Chong, Randall Maggs, Nino Ricci and MG Vassanji. The jury noted that “With a poet’s sense of the importance of language and image, Tregebov sheds light on a part of Ukrainian and Canadian history that is rarely presented.”

Globe and Mail Top 100 Books for 2010. Jim Bartley’s Top 5 Books: “The imminence of disaster – sensing it will come, not knowing how – infuses this tale of a Winnipeg family resettling in ancestral Ukraine. From callow childhood to belated understanding, snapshot scenes slowly coalesce into the arc of decades. Tregebov’s sorrows are admirably unlyricized, her nostalgia tart rather than sweet. The emerging Holocaust lurks like a slumbering monster, determinedly denied until it begins to claim victims.”

Winner, 2010 J.I. Segal Award; Prize in English Fiction and Poetry on a Jewish Theme. The awards, presented every two years, are designed to encourage and reward creative works on Jewish themes. The 2008 winner was Leonard Cohen for The Book of Longing. Other past award winners include Irving Layton and Adele Wiseman.

Jury citation: “The decision was indeed difficult. Rhea Tregebov’s first novel The Knife Sharpener’s Bell stood out for the beauty of its prose, the ambition of its scope, and the strength of its story. [Tregebov’s] sensitivity to language and attentiveness to history are both evident in this riveting bildungsroman, which has already garnered other award nominations and considerable critical attention. We congratulate her on this debut novel, and we look forward to her future books.”

Shortlisted, ForeWord Reviews 2009 Book of the Year Awards, Fiction Category: ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Awards were established to bring increased attention to librarians and booksellers of the literary achievements of independent publishers and their authors. Readers, librarians, and booksellers together select the shortlist and winners. Their decisions are based on editorial excellence, professional production, originality of the narrative, and the value the book adds to its genre.

Nominated, Award for Publishing, Saskatchewan Book Awards 2009: This Award is presented to the Saskatchewan publisher of the best book, based on literary or artistic value, the quality of editing, book design, production and content.



Annette Gershon’s odyssey from Depression-era Winnipeg to Stalinist Russia 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 in 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.

Annette struggles to maintain her sense of who she is, first adapting to her life in 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.

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



“An assured and affecting first novel…” Jim Bartley, Globe and Mail.

The Knife Sharpener’s Bell is a compelling story, made memorable by the poet’s eye.” Ami Sands Brodoff,  Quill & Quire.

“By far, Tregebov’s greatest feat is in her subtle portrayal of ordinary characters enduring life under Communism.” Bev Greenberg, Winnipeg Free Press.

“The sound of the knife sharpener has two beats, a light followed by a heavy one, and those beats provide the rhythm for the catastrophic events in Annette’s life.” Michael Greenstein, Prairie Fire.

“This remarkable novel illuminates a period of history long shielded by the Iron Curtain, as well as the complex relationship between immigration and homeland. It is also beautifully written. The page-turning epic begins in the 1920s in Winnipeg, spends two decades in the Soviet Union, then finds its way back to contemporary Toronto. It is as much an exploration of what is home as it is of history.” Shawna Dempsey, Herizons Magazine.

“… readers will glean from The Knife Sharpener’s the kind of fraught satisfaction that defines memorably fine fiction. […] complexly ren­dered characters in a finely wrought and heartbreaking exploration of one family’s negotiation of the dominant ideological forces of their time.” Lisa Grekul, Event Magazine.

“The Knife Sharpener’s Bell is a sharply conceived, beautifully written story about the forces of history, the passion of ideology and the inescapable tug of memory.” Sharon Chisvin, The Winnipeg Jewish Review.

“…carefully researched and wide-ranging.” Tanya Christiansen, Canadian Literature. 

“Recommendation: if you buy The Knife Sharpener’s Bell, by Saskatchewan-born writer Rhea Tregebov, budget your time accordingly, because you’ll not be able to put this gripping historical novel down.” Shelley A. Leedahl, SPG Book Reviews.

Bell takes up family, life, death, war, persecution, love, immigration, migration, the Diasporic, longing, happiness, and grief, but best of all, it celebrates the ability of language to pay homage to human triumph—” Anne Sorbie, Wascana Review.




Looking for background on The Knife Sharpener’s Bell? Read an interview with Rhea Tregebov.

For a quick and quirky overview of the book’s themes, read the autosummary.

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