The Mar­row Thieves, by Cherie Di­ma­line

Sherbrooke Record - - FRONT PAGE - Len­noxville library

Book re­view by Janet An­grave

The Mar­row Thieves, by Cherie Di­ma­line, was one of this year’s Canada Reads choices (but not the win­ner). Not know­ing any­thing about the novel or its au­thor, I chose this book for two rea­sons: the au­thor is a YA (Young Adult) au­thor, and the in­trigu­ing picture of a young abo­rig­i­nal man on the cover. Be­tween the cov­ers was a story quite dif­fer­ent from what I had an­tic­i­pated. Though two of this year’s five nov­els were cat­e­go­rized as “fu­tur­is­tic”, the fu­ture de­picted here is much closer and more dis­as­trous than any of us could imag­ine.

Cherie Di­ma­line, a Geor­gian Bay Métis, has worked in indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties as a so­cial worker. She has wit­nessed the hope­less­ness of to­day’s young na­tive peo­ple. She said, in an in­ter­view with She­lagh Rogers on CBC, that “she wrote this novel to show the youth there is a fu­ture for them de­spite the res­i­den­tial school legacy which con­tin­ues to be very much alive in their cul­ture.”

In pre­par­ing to write her novel, Ms. Di­ma­line con­sulted NASA for pos­si­ble en­vi­ron­men­tal events we can ex­pect in the near fu­ture. Pre­pare your­selves for cat­a­clysmic dis­rup­tions! In the book, melt­ing po­lar ice re­sults in the ero­sion of coastal re­gions and the loss of cities and thou­sands of peo­ple. Earth­quakes cre­ate their own dis­as­ters, one of which is the rup­ture of pipe­lines re­sult­ing in soil and water pol­lu­tion. Wind storms and con­stant rain are fur­ther events which dis­rupt life as we know it. Peo­ple are home­less, sick and forced to search for food and clean water. Homes, busi­nesses, towns and cities have been aban­doned.

This is the sit­u­a­tion we en­counter when we be­gin read­ing the novel. A Métis fam­ily has left their home in south­ern Canada near the Great Lakes, trav­elled north and found a de­serted cabin which be­comes their home be­fore they con­tinue their jour­ney. Jean, the fa­ther, goes with other coun­cil mem­bers to talk to the gov­er­nors, hop­ing to end the sit­u­a­tion in which they have be­come the vic­tims. Jean never re­turns; their mother loses hope and the will to live. The or­phaned boys, Mitch and Fran­cis, are fend­ing for them­selves, scav­eng­ing for food and bot­tled water and liv­ing in a tree house. The “Re­cruiters” are con­stantly search­ing for prey, which, in this case, is the indige­nous peo­ple. Why would the white man hunt the na­tives and cap­ture them? This is the sit­u­a­tion Jean hoped to ter­mi­nate by talk­ing to the peo­ple who con­sent to this sav­agery. It turns out that the white man is both­ered by sleep­less­ness and has lost the abil­ity to dream. They be­lieve the na­tives’ abil­ity to dream can be har­vested by si­phon­ing the DNA found in their bone mar­row. We learn that this sci­en­tific pro­ce­dure is tak­ing place in build­ings which re­sem­ble res­i­den­tial schools; thus they are re­garded as places of hor­ror, which they in­deed are.

So Mitch and Fran­cis are al­ways alert to the dan­ger of be­ing spot­ted by the Re­cruiters. Af­ter a food-hunting ex­pe­di­tion, Mitch is cap­tured and Fran­cis is left to fend for him­self. Alone, hun­gry, sick and wet, he knows to go north. For­tu­nately, he is found by a small na­tive group who are also es­cap­ing. Mi­ig­wans, their leader, knew Fran­cis’ fa­ther and is a “school/lab” sur­vivor. As we learn later, ev­ery­one who man­ages to escape has scars which at­test to the sever­ity of the DNA tests. This group be­comes his new fam­ily which cares for and com­forts him. Soon he is able to con­trib­ute to their well-be­ing; be­cause he is adept at tree-climb­ing, he be­comes the scout who can tell whether or not it is safe to camp.

For ap­prox­i­mately five years, this is their life: break­ing camp be­fore dawn, slog­ging through swampy land all day and mak­ing camp be­fore dusk. They re­vive some tra­di­tions such as story-telling around the camp­fire, say­ing a prayer of grat­i­tude to an an­i­mal for pro­vid­ing them with food, and to the earth for nour­ish­ing that an­i­mal. Min­erva, the el­dest of the band, knows na­tive lan­guages, and Fran­cis, now called “Frenchie”, finds he is ea­ger to learn. There are typ­i­cal teenage mo­ments when Frenchie is jeal­ous of the at­ten­tion given to Rose, his spe­cial friend, by an­other young man from the group they even­tu­ally en­counter and join. Now their in­creased numbers mean they have more re­sources, hunters, and skills to sur­vive; so they con­tinue their quest for the “home­land”, a place where they will heal.

Any read­ers who re­mem­ber their high school Cana­dian His­tory cour­ses will re­call how the white man dec­i­mated the na­tive pop­u­la­tions by tak­ing away their lands, bring­ing dis­ease and death by star­va­tion and not hon­our­ing many of the treaties. The indige­nous peo­ple were vic­tims then; now, the au­thor cre­ates a 21st cen­tury sit­u­a­tion in which, once again, they be­come vic­tims. How­ever, the au­thor en­vi­sions a dif­fer­ent out­come. Be­cause the na­tive peo­ples have su­pe­rior sur­vival skills, age-old knowl­edge of the land and what it pro­duces, the re­silience and en­ergy to carry on, there is a pos­i­tive, hope­ful con­clu­sion to this re­veal­ing novel. Frenchie has be­come a re­spon­si­ble young man, proud of his her­itage and, in time, ca­pa­ble of be­com­ing a leader.

The mes­sage of this novel is,” Take care of one an­other and our en­vi­ron­ment”. Mother Earth is a won­der­ful provider, but it is im­per­a­tive that we learn from the past and not re­peat his­tory. In the words of one of the char­ac­ters, “When we heal our land, we heal our­selves.”

The Saturday chil­dren`s ac­tiv­ity this week will fo­cus on Pi­rates. Next week`s ac­tiv­ity will be ori­ented around Earth Day.

Lovers of read­ing and movies are en­cour­aged to take ad­van­tage of our pro­mo­tion of DVDS about Writ­ers and Writ­ing.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.