The Marrow Thieves
By Cherie Dimaline
The coronavirus sweeping the world is a disease with a much smaller mortality rate than many previous pandemics. Nevertheless, in the first few weeks of its presence in America, we have already seen people hoard resources (toilet paper, for goodness’ sake), and try to profiteer by selling hand sanitizer at ten or twenty times its retail value. Just imagine what might happen if the apocalypse were worse than the coronavirus.
Post-apocalyptic fiction is nothing new, of course. What The Marrow Thieves does, however, is contrast how two cultures deal with the end.
After environmental and military catastrophes, it turns out that no one can dream anymore. Or–almost no one. Native Americans still can. And, it also turns out that a process involving Native American bone marrow can restore the ability to dream, with the drawback that it kills the donor. Using history as their guide, the non-natives start rounding up Native Americans into “schools.” At these camps, Native Americans are kept, bred, and eventually harvested for their marrow.
The story, however, tells very little of the background, and almost no details. Instead, it follows a group of Native Americans on their journey north, away from the cities. Along the way, they try to connect with the old language, the old teachings, the old ways. They need to navigate through unfamiliar terrain, both wild and urban. They need to figure out how to interact with the individuals and groups they meet, because looks can be deceiving.
This is a moving novel, and I have to admit that I cried at the end (I won’t tell you why, though.) It’s themes cover everything from the importance of dreams, to the importance of history, to alternate world views. Now that we are experiencing a pandemic, and we have already seen instances of racism against Asian Americans, this short novel might be a good reminder to consider who we are as a people.