The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline

My first of five books from the Canada Reads 2018.

3/5 stars.
ebook,  184 pages.
Read from February 5, 2018 to February 11, 2018.

I’ll admit, I picked this book to read first because it was the shortest and it is the one I was the least excited about reading. YA books, while they can be enjoyable, often don’t satisfy any sort of intellectual need that I expect out books sometimes, especially ones that are in competition.

It is the future and we have out-worked ourselves and over-stretched our planet to the point of desolation. Instead of coming up with real solutions to combat the problem we have ended up working harder with the same old resources. We have worked so hard that we no longer dream. Like a plague, dreamlessness spreads itself across the globe and like having lost part of their soul, people are starting to go mad and are willing to do anything to regain back the ability to escape and to dream. There is one group of people who have somehow managed to not lose their ability to dream, the Native Americans, and with the spread of the epidemic, they are now being hunted for the dreams that live within the marrow of their bones.

“From where we were now, running, looking at reality from this one point in time, it seemed as though the world had suddenly gone mad. Poisoning your own drinking water, changing the air so much the earth shook and melted and crumbled, harvesting a race for medicine. How? How could this happen? Were they that much different from us? Would we be like them if we’d had a choice? Were they like us enough to let us live?”

Struggling to keep their culture and language alive while they are slowing be picked off by Recruiters for their marrow, small groups of natives are living out in the bush and having to move as much as possible to stay alive. You follow the story of fifteen-year-old Frenchie who has been separated from his family and has since joined up with another smaller group of Natives just trying to stay alive.

If the premise sounds a bit far off, like dreams in bone marrow, it is because it is and it was my major fault with this book. Sometimes dystopian premises can go a bit too far. However, this novel pays so much tribute to the Native American tradition of oral story-telling creating some amazing chapters and sequences in the writing style. The story is also a set reminder and reflection of what we have done to the Native Americans in our past and current history. There are many natives alive today that know all too well the horrors of the residential school systems in which they were forced into, robbing them of their culture and sometimes of their dignity which is exactly what is occurring this book.

The characters are easily relatable and you’re quick to like them, especially after hearing them recount their own stories. The author also does a good job in creating some very effective emotional and tragic scenes. It also wouldn’t be a YA novel without some romance which, wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. There were a few angsty-awkward romance moments but overall fairly believable, especially for teens.

The story ends with a satisfying but partial resolution making it look like this book is going to be the first in a series, another thing I hate about YA novels, but at least it wasn’t a cliffhanger ending.

So does this book meet the Canada Reads 2018 criteria? Does it open your eyes? Yes, in a metaphorical sense. It takes the issues facing Native Americans today in Canada and puts it a more somewhat palatable form. The connections that the author draws between the fictional world that Frenchie lives in and the world that real Natives live in are comparable and important, as are the environmental reflections, but will this book stand up to another with a more poignant story that is not dystopian? Personally, I can’t see it happening but I guess we will see what the other books bring to the table and how the debates are presented.

 

Nostalgia by M.G. Vassanji

It’s midnight, the lion is out…

They are spirits destined to live a second life
In body; they assemble to drink
From the brimming Lethe, and its water
Heals their anxieties and obliterates
All trace of memory.”
– AeneidBook VI

4/5 stars.
ebook, 272 pages.
February 22, 2017 to February 24, 2017.

Onwards! Book two of five for the Canada Reads 2017 debate.

Imagine that you are able to live forever and have whatever identity and persona you would like. Who would you be? Would you shed the memories of your previous life? And could you afford such a treatment?  Nostalgia is a story of these choices and possibilities.

It is the future and we have found a way to live forever. Well, at least if you are a wealthy Westerner. If you have the funds you can choose to live forever and make yourself whoever you wish to be. The sacrifice being that your old memories must be removed for these new identities to take place, with scripted fictitious memories being left in their place. As a result of this feat of technology, there has become a massive gap between poor and wealthy countries. The poor countries are war town and the people live in absolute poverty. Additionally, there is a rift between the two generations of people with eternal life: the older generation that has had numerous lives and identities, and the newer generation who currently have only ever lived one life and have one set of original memories. The newer generation, is extremely frustrated and resentful as they cannot find jobs because the older generation has not, nor will not, vacate any of them. Meaning that the newer generation has to scrape by or find someone of the older generation to rely on. Dr. Frank Sina is one from the fortunate older generation of eternals.

Frank is a doctor who specializes in treating those who have are troubled with memories resurfacing from previous lives/identities. Frank is immensely successful at his job, has a young lover, and has never questioned his purpose as a doctor or even his immortality. That is until he meets one of his new clients: Presley Smith. Presley is haunted with reoccurring thoughts and images from another time and place. While Presley’s case is not remarkable, Frank cannot seem to let go of it, even when Presley insists he can control it, and even when he is forbidden to interfere from the Department of Internal Security. Frank’s drive to help, and even protect Presley, is unknown to him but it will unravel the life that he believes he knows.

This novel is an example of a successful dystopia. It’s not too far fetched to be true science fiction and it holds enough truth in it to reflect the present. The author depicts a very real conflict between baby boomers and millennials with the new and old generations of those with eternal life as well as the disparity of wealth between have and have-not countries and the lack of understanding and general humanity that wealthier countries have on the issue.

The novel also discusses the morality and conflict of what it would be like to live forever. The major philosophical point however is that, deep down, we cannot truly change who we are and in the end we are all connected.

In terms of the question for Canada Reads: What is the one book Canadians need now? – This book is a great candidate for the winner. Despite the political differences and atmosphere currently this book serves to remind all Canadians that regardless of where you came from or what you believe, we cannot forget that we are all the same. Additionally it serves to remind people to help those in need. Perhaps it also goes to say, that in terms of science and technology, that just because we can, it does not mean we should.

This was an outstanding read. As it stands I am going to have a hard time deciding on who I think should win this year’s Canada Reads. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys dystopia, philosophy, science and the dynamics of human relationships and self.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Ishiguro does have a way of delicately discussing intense matters and the twist, which is nearly science fiction, brings up all sorts of moral questions.

A delicate dystopian novel.

3/5 stars.
Hardcover, 288 pages.
Read from July 13 to 19, 2016.

This novel has been nominated for a few awards and is frequently on lists as one of the books that we should read before we die. Ishiguro has won other awards with some of his other works and is often praised for his simple style of writing on complicated scenarios and his ability to merge literary fiction with a dystopian setting. As of lover of anything to do with reading lists, I was anxious to add this book to pile.

Kathy, Ruth and Tommy are students at an exclusive and secluded boarding school in England called Hailsham but not everything is as it appears. The students are told that they are special but are never really told why, but whispers from the teachers and rumours from the students start to unfold the horrifying truth about the real reason these students are attending the school. Kathy recalls how the the three of them grew up in Hailsham and has mixed feelings of fondness as she comes to terms with the fate that the three of them, and all the other students at Hailsham share. As an adult, Ruth and Tommy enter Kathy’s life again and the three of them try to make up for the time that they are quickly losing.

It is difficult to summarize the plot without giving away the novel but Ishiguro slowly builds the plot through Kathy so that as a reader you are not sure what is truly going with these students until halfway through the novel. The twist is nearly that of science fiction and brings up all sorts of moral questions. Ishiguro does have a way of delicately discussing intense matters. However, I do feel that that was the major fault of this novel. This book is simple, too simple in my opinion, for the moral content it is discussing. I felt like I was reading a young adult novel, not an nominated piece of literary fiction.

I wanted more than what Ishiguro offered me. That isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy the novel, but there were aspects of it that I found petty. For example, it wasn’t until the last half of the novel that I came to like the characters in the book. Ruth is not a good friend and I was constantly waiting for the day when Kathy would get some sense and end things with her and as a result I did not like Kathy until later in the novel. Tommy I always sympathized with however. My questions are why didn’t the students run away when they had a chance? Once they were older and knew what was coming, why didn’t they run for it? I can’t imagine that they all managed to accept their fates without question, especially once they had a taste for the real world. Were they too afraid of finding their doubles? Was it part of their re-wired genetics to never question their own purpose? I never got those answers but perhaps that is what makes this novel so haunting.

However, the setting of this book is beautifully done. The tiny details of the how the school functioned, the teachers who had moral issues with the information students were given about their special situation, Kathy dancing and singing with a pillow, and of course once they became carers were what I felt were the pinnacles in this book and were the foundation to the subtle and emotional contexts that the reader connects with. It was these aspects that sat with me long after I finished the novel. So needless to say, Ishiguro still accomplished his job with me as a reader.

This story asks moral questions in regards to medicine and cloning and the moral risks that come in regards to curing illnesses. How do we make moral decisions in medicine on our abilities to play with genetics and creation? How do we make the means worth the ends and does something/someone have to suffer as a result? The ultimate question being, just because we can, does it mean we should?  I imagine because of the questions that this book asks that it has become a timeless piece of fiction.

Overall, Ishiguro has made me curious and I am very interested in reading more by him. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys sci-fi plots without spaceships and for those looking for something outside the standard dystopian.