Book Review and Thank You Letter: The Marrow Thieves

My workplace has a book club that continues to be active even while working from home most days. This is a thank you note, and a book review for one of the books we read, The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline.

Hi Coworkers,

I’m so happy that our book club is still going strong despite the current changes of having to work from home.

Also I’m sorry that I first slacked off with one of the books, this one, we were supposed to read for the book club. I’m super cheap and refused to buy any books, so I was waiting to get the e-book access from our local library and I was on hold. I’m so relieved that the book club meeting was pushed back by a few weeks. As things have aligned in my favor then. I got the book, and managed to read it just in time for the rescheduled book club meeting.

This is great book! I learned from our recent book club selections that I get emotionally intense when reading fiction books, and I have to stop reading them before bedtime. Because this is just as riveting and compelling for me.

My limited exposure to media and fiction work that has a post-apocalyptic setting, made me captivated when reading this book. It feels like the settings can be something that can happen in the foreseeable future. There are no fancy techno gadgets described in an elaborate manner, no comprehensive explanation on how the bone marrow extracted from indigenous people gets transformed into medication that enables the rest of the population to dream again, but as you read the chapters, you can feel deeply how this alleged ‘miracle cure’ has disrupted the lives of a particular group of people, and a fierce fight for survival has emerged.

In this case, one’s heritage and identity is double edged sword of something that one can be proud of, and something that you are hunted for. The precious commodity gave me an impression of analogies that can be associated similarly to elephants killed for their ivory tusks, or rhinoceroses hunted for their horns.

stack of books on a table with a person behind the stack, showing only their arms and shoulders

The hands on, gritty, on the ground, grueling experiences of survival is evident in every character, not just with Frenchie, the protagonist of the story. The reader can witness the elaborate coping mechanisms to keep a sliver of home, hope and sanity, weaving a fragmented sense of family from people you meet out of circumstance. For Frenchie, after shifting his mindset of letting go of his blood family and forming bonds with his ragtag family, it gets shaken up when one of the rarest of miracles happen, which is getting reconnected to a love one from when times were better. Frenchie getting reconnected with his father, caused friction as he felt conflicted about staying while pursuing his relationship with Rose. While Migwaans also was reconnected with his husband, since it was the last scene of the story, there wasn’t any elaboration on how this changed their lives moving forward.

I understand the reluctance of the older members of the group, when the youngest child RiRi insisted to know “Story”, the raw and horrific detail of what led them to the current situation they are in. Part of this narration os the real account of how the lands of North America were occupied by European colonizers, the impacts of the residential school system and its parallels to what is happening to the characters. Part of this narration is the environmental devastation that mankind has inflicted on the earth, a heavy hint of what our future can be in the forseeable future.

The elder Minerva is a key component to the story, a precious link to knowledge about their heritage and language. Frenchie first thought that for the girls in the group having to spend time with her is a drag because of Minerva’s quirkiness. But his opinion changed quickly after he discovered she is teaching the girls some of the words she knew. The symbolism portrayed from when she was captured and how she destroyed the medical apparatuses placed on her and the school that imprisoned her. Her death was devastating to the characters because of many things that she represents.

As someone who is a migrant to this country, my journey of learning about indigenous culture of the past and present, and this country’s history lasting impact on Indigenous peoples, is a work in progress I have to cultivate over the years. It wasn’t too long ago that through mainstream media, I’ve seen a two-spirit gay couple for the first time. So when I realized that Miggwans is in a similar relationship, I admit I was rooting for them more passionately, since there’s so few of them that I am aware of. To say I was jumping in joy at the last few paragraphs of the story, when he found his husband Isaac, is an understatement.

Shadow of two men's faces close to each other, about to kiss.

I’m gonna say it, our book club is really cool. Thanks for enriching my reading list, and I look forward to future books that we enjoy and talk about as a group.

Book Review: Becoming Superman

This is a book review of Becoming Superman written by J. Michael Strazynski, the person behind the Babylon 5 Television series as well as SENSE8. The book is an autobiography, covering the author’s family history before he was born, chronicling his own experiences growing up in a precarious, violent home, his coping mechanisms in the form of comic books, pursuing a career in the creative and writing field, and ongoing commentary about his relationships throughout the years.

For some context, my husband is a huge fan of Babylon 5, and by huge, I mean it’s the “mega-nerd” level, which I say affectionately. He has the DVDs, book of the scripts of the episodes, including a separate book talking about what happened to another show that was launched by the author but was not so successful. Watching Babylon 5 was a memorable part of our early years of dating, back when sleepovers were not even a consideration and we are sorting through our mutual awkwardness. The moment that there was news about a book where the writer talked about his past, I was not surprised that my husband pre-ordered an autographed copy!

Now, to the actual review of the book.

It is detailed, gut-wrenching and compelling in its narration, a reflection of his ability to captivate audiences creatively no matter what creative medium. He is a well-recognized and well-respected writer in Hollywood, particularly in the science fiction genre, so this is just another testimony to his talents.

On a personal level, many chapters and stories are very relatable, particularly the parts that talk about fictional characters and forms of literature as a source of escape from the harshness of real life. The anguish of the young child, of the young man, in every fight that happened in the home, every time his father announced that they are moving again, every time he pours in hours and days writing to the point that he gets sick, all of these are palpable in every page and every chapter.

It’s fascinating to me though, to witness how a real person has embodied in many ways, the characteristics they saw in a particular fictional superhero, in this case, was Superman. Which made me wail in agony, just like him, when his father maliciously destroyed Michael’s comic book collection.

This is not just a book that aims to narrate and inspire. As I was reading through the chapters, there’s an undertone of wanting to use the book as a tool or a weapon, to vindicate and for vengeance. And in the last chapters of the book, my inclination was confirmed. The writer did intend to use the book in many ways to get back at his father, for the abusive treatment he inflicted towards the family, and to expose the background he felt his father was trying to hide and deny. It is evident that the writer wanted to broadcast as loudly as possible, his father as a Nazi sympathizer. An arrogant, violent and abusive man.

One thing I didn’t anticipate is how in certain chapters, it felt more like a personal development book, rather than an autobiography. During his several positions in journalism and scriptwriting, he shared a few pieces of advice that stood out to me (in paraphrased form):

  • Write as much as you can to “get the crap out”, so you can start making good content
  • Be reliable and always hand in your work on time, since about half the people who are expected to hand in work, flake out and miss deadlines. This builds reliability and a good reputation.

As someone who is still a young professional, who does creative work on the side, I think that these are really good pieces of advice, even for those who are not necessarily working in creative fields.

Overall, I am pleased with the book, and I know it will be part of a treasured collection of items that we will have in our home for a long time.

Book Review: Edmonton’s Urban Villages

Through my volunteering at the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues, I obtained a copy of a book that talks about the concept of community leagues and its impact in Edmonton, named Edmonton’s Urban Villages, written by Ron Kuban. This is a review of the book.

A Comprehensive and Digestible Overview of this City’s History

A city that existed for over a hundred years has a fairly lengthy history, one that would have pretty decent documentation as well. It is safe to say that the volume of information can be overwhelming, particularly for someone like myself who doesn’t describe themselves as a ‘history buff’. What I appreciate about this book is in its pages, combined with narrations, photos obtained from archives of the organization and from the city, the book is a neatly organized overview of the city’s history that is easy to read.

I have heard about how the city evolved, how it expanded and merged with neighbouring towns, how roadways are planned and utilities are managed, how recessions and wars impacted the economy and day-to-day living. Though other events or forms of media, I learned about the different social, political and economic eras that our city had, and I appreciated how it was presented in the book.

Community Leagues and EFCL had been an incubator of many initiatives that flourished into independent organizations. When I encounter city-wide organizations that focus on a particular activity, like soccer or hockey, I am now more likely to probe on whether this is something that the community league movement had initiated on a neighbourhood level.

Familiar Names and Places Given Deeper Context and Appreciation

People whose names I see in street signs, news articles, historical videos and hall of fame galleries popped up numerous times in all the book’s pages, which for me is quite delightful. As I personally never had a formal class about Edmonton’s history, opportunities like this book, which is a light read, is a chance to understand who, when and what happened at certain times. Some of the names in the book were individuals I have met in person recently, and it’s incredible to witness what they have accomplished in decades past, that is impactful enough to be documented in such a fashion.

From war veterans to business owners, from politicians to women to broke the glass ceiling in their own right, witnessing how they did their part to make an impact at a local level (the neighbourhood level) is valuable in knowing why our city works the way it is now. The events were not always pleasant, and even the people were far from perfect. The chapters talked about differing views, burnout, conflict, and missed opportunities to work together, but there seems to always be a positive turn of events afterwards.

Motivation for Greater Involvement in the Community

My community involvement has a slightly selfish goal, to address my level of disconnectedness from not being born-and-raised here. At the same time, I feel deep meaning in making a contribution of my time and energy to the community at large. My personal involvement with community leagues is fairly recent, just when we moved to our house about five years ago. Learning about the concept of community leagues, an idea that originated in the US that had a Canadian and Edmonton-based modifications to it is quite remarkable.

I understand and appreciate better the idea that there are different levels of involvement: from the volunteer who comes at events to help set up and take down the furniture at the hall, the volunteer who tracks the mail for the organization and pays the utilities, the one who helps with fundraising and financial grant applications, the big-picture people who helps with decisions and bylaws, and more. The book repeatedly talked about the “unnamed volunteers”, thousands of them, that are the real heroes of this movement. I hope to do the same in my own way.

100th Anniversary of the Featured Organization

2021 is a significant year, as it is the 100th anniversary of the organization featured in the book, the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues. There has been some projects that are in progress to memorialize this milestone. Discovering this book could not have come at a better time. An update of this book as it written in 2005, is a great idea for sure, since the past 15 years had made a lot of changes in Edmonton and how people and communities function.