Cloud of Bone is Bernice Morgan's recent novel, telling the tragic tale of Shanawdithit, believed to be the last surviving member of the Beothuk native tribe of Newfoundland. My heart is still aching after reading this terrible tragedy wherein the settlers to Newfoundland, the Dogmen, eliminated the Beothuk's hunting grounds, and forced them inland, attacking them, and by 1829, all the Beothuk were dead.
Morgan combines three different stories: Kyle Holloway, a young ruffian from St John's, member of the Royal Navy during World War II.(Newfoundland did not join Canada until 1949) Holloway faces his own betrayal and tragedy. Then, Shanawdithit's story of her people and their struggle to survive and fight the Europeans. Finally, Judith Muir in the present, an anthropologist, dealing with her own grief after an incident at a genocide site in Rwanda. Morgan manages to connect the three stories to "make both an intriguing mystery and a meditation on lost innocence, brutality and the power of memory."[from the inside cover]
I wrote in a previous post that I thought Morgan's first novel, Random Passage and its sequel, Waiting for Time were the definitive Canadian novel. I am certainly a fan of Bernice Morgan and this book did not disappoint. I jumped at the chance to get it from randomhouse.ca, for their reviewing program. There are several issues addressed in this book, with the Beothuk history obviously making the biggest impact. The shame and anger I felt at how the Europeans dealt with the native people of this land gives me great pause. To be able to read this history from the Beothuk's perspective, knowing the Europeans view from our history books, is quite an eye opener. Morgan has done a wonderful job of describing the day to day life of Shawadithit's meotick, putting the reader into the tribe, amidst all the usual human emotions: hope, jealousy, anger, love, contentment, and the traditions and cultures that developed over years.
Then, how Morgan connects this to modern day events such as the Rwandan genocide (pushing Romeo d'Allaire's nonfiction book Shake Hands with the Devil, his account of UN Peacekeeping in Rwanda, up my reading list) makes this a powerful book. How do we reconcile leaving bodies to rest in peace with the knowledge that can be gained from the anthropological study? How long can you leave bodies before their historic significance outweighs the respect for their resting place? Why do humans feel a need to eliminate a whole tribe of people? Who speaks for the dead?
Very powerful book.