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.

Rise and Root Cafe Review

By: Giselle General

This is a review of a local cafe I visited a few weeks ago, the Rise and Root Cafe. It is located in what I would describe as a developing area, with open lots recently divided and ready for construction, and the retail plaza that is clearly recently constructed with room the grow, 20020 Lessard Rd NW.

I was assigned to decide on a meeting location with my mentor for our March meeting, and I was inspired by what she did in our meeting prior to, which is to identify a local restaurant or cafe to meet and chat. Since I cook most of my food at home and pack lunches to the office, going out to eat is actually a treat. I was excited to see what good food and atmosphere this place would have, that would hopefully complement the good purpose of my meeting with my mentor.

The aesthetic of the cafe did not disappoint, it is homey and eclectic and cozy and it’s just wonderful. The cafe had mismatched upcycled furniture for its patrons, including an old TV converted into a fish tank. The theme of upcycling continued on its walls. The three paintings in the photo above are made of previously used materials, such as wine corks, bottle caps, and tree branches. There are lots of other art pieces as well using glass bottles, and even pots and pans! The upcycling artist in me was just thrilled, I felt that the cafe was made just for people like me. The combination of seating arrangements in my opinion was well planned, from the booth by the window, the couch/ bench combination along one wall, and various tables that seat between two to eight people.

The food and service is wonderful as well. There was a lineup of people ordering food to go, which gives me an impression that this is a well-known and well-loved establishment in this emerging neighbourhood. I ordered my blueberry scone and egg salad, served in dishes that I’m sure are second-hand and I love it even more as a result.

The Edmonton Transit bus 117 passes through the area which is nice, but once the area is more populated, I am hoping that there will be a more frequent transit service here one day to make it easy for non-residents of the neighbourhood to visit. This lovely cafe is definitely something I would make a trip to go to, for various meetings or even a date.

If you are on the west end, or just wanted to find a place to grab a bite that is not a touristy part of the city, I highly recommend this place.