Bernice Morgan, winner of the CAA Award for her novel Waiting for Time, begins Cloud of Bone with the story of Kyle, a Newfoundland serviceman in the Second World War. The violence he witnesses damages him and leads him to commit an unspeakable, violent betrayal. He goes AWOL, retreats into underground caves he frequented as a child, and waits to die. There, the ghost of Shanawdithit, the last known Beothuk of Newfoundland, who died in 1829, comes to him and tells him the story of her people’s violent and pathetic final days.
Morgan’s powerful writing makes Shanawdithit’s story a harrowing read. Despite a few improbable coincidences (and an impossible airline security violation), a compelling mystery emerges in the final section, with the story of Julia, an English anthropologist.
Morgan gives readers much to think about on the subject of genocide’s widely shared origins, and how the other that it destroys is not so different from the destroyer. Julia’s aunt laments the kings that wanted “shut of the fenpeople” and that the blood of those killed still “seeps up betimes.” Kyle looks into the eyes of the hated Germans and then into those of his childhood friend; he cannot see the difference. Shanawdithit, feeling her people slip through her fingers as they are exterminated one by one, smells the stink of the “Dogmen” – the white invaders – and craves their deaths too.
Through the eyes of Kyle, Shanawdithit, and Julia, we witness the creation of an other who is easier to hate and to destroy. Even when reaching out to understand, Julia learns, we are still creating the other, and that creation makes their destruction possible.