The stars began to rip through the hard skin of dark like the sharp points of silver needles through velvet. I watched them appear and wink and fade, and I smiled. This wasn’t going to be so bad. Maybe the end is just a dream. That made me feel sorry for a minute for the others, the dreamless ones. What happened when they died? I imagined them just shutting off like factory machines at the end of a shift: functioning, purposeful, and then just out.The Marrow Thieves
Vonnegut could not have known how his homegrown Nazi theme would play out in the 21st century
We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.
Howard W. Campbell Jr., the narrator of Vonnegut’s brilliant 1966 novel Mother Night, is pretending to be a Nazi — or as he puts it at the outset of his so-called confessions, “I am an American by birth, a Nazi by reputation, and a nationless person by inclination.” In Campbell’s version of his life story, he became a writer and broadcaster of Nazi propaganda out of expediency — his father-in-law was the chief of police in Berlin; Campbell and his German wife wanted to remain in Germany even after the war began in 1939; joining the Nazi cause was the easiest way to do that. His broadcasts were notoriously vile, filled with hatred and venom toward Jewish people and anyone else who did not conform to the Aryan ideal.
And that for me was the most upsetting thing about this story — that someone could spew such hatred, knowing it would have the most terrible consequences for its targets, without actually feeling strongly one way or the other about the truth of what he said and wrote. The hateful propaganda was a writing exercise, a way for Campbell to keep his creative juices flowing for when the war would end and he could resume his playwriting career. To freely disperse such hate without believing in it — is that not more horrific than the mad ravings of the true believer?
I’ve seen a number of references to this book recently as a sort of foretelling of the current political situation in the United States. As I began reading I expected to find that Campbell represented the people who stormed the US Capitol and tried to overthrow the government, but after reading it I’ve changed my mind. Campbell is the spitting image of every politician, from the very top down to state and local levels, who cynically perpetuated lies and conspiracy theories that they knew to be false, in order to rile up that mob and incite the insurrection. In the end, which is worse?
That’s the question that’s going to keep me up nights.
I had hoped, as a (propaganda) broadcaster, to be merely ludicrous, but this is a hard world to be ludicrous in, with so many human beings so reluctant to laugh, so incapable of thought, so eager to believe and snarl and hate.
My current read is a book recommended by my friend Ana, which just happened to be available at the library when I checked their online catalog. It’s The Marrow Thieves by Canadian author Cherie Dimaline (2017). The library blurb is enticing: “In a future world ravaged by global warming, people have lost the ability to dream, and the dreamlessness has led to widespread madness. The only people still able to dream are North America’s indigenous population – and it is their marrow that holds the cure for the rest of the world. But getting the marrow – and dreams – means death for the unwilling donors. Driven to flight, a 15-year-old and his companions struggle for survival, attempt to reunite with loved ones, and take refuge from the “recruiters” who seek them out to bring them to the marrow-stealing ‘factories.”
The book has won a slew of awards in Canada, including the Kirkus Prize for Young People’s Fiction, the Governor General’s Literary Award (Young People’s Literature category), and the Burt Award for First Nations, Métis and Inuit Literature. As you can see from that list, the book is classified as Young Adult but I have to say the writing shows a level of maturity that makes it an engaging read even for an old lady like me. I’ll post a full review when I’ve finished it, but so far, so good.