By: Joseph Boyden
Format/Source: eBook; my purchase
A visceral portrait of life at a crossroads, The Orenda opens with a brutal massacre and the kidnapping of the young Iroquois Snow Falls, a spirited girl with a special gift. Her captor, Bird, is an elder and one of the Huron Nation’s great warriors and statesmen. It has been years since the murder of his family and yet they are never far from his mind. In Snow Falls, Bird recognizes the ghost of his lost daughter and sees the girl possesses powerful magic that will be useful to him on the troubled road ahead. Bird’s people have battled the Iroquois for as long as he can remember, but both tribes now face a new, more dangerous threat from afar. Christophe, a charismatic Jesuit missionary, has found his calling amongst the Huron and devotes himself to learning and understanding their customs and language in order to lead them to Christ. An emissary from distant lands, he brings much more than his faith to the new world. As these three souls dance each other through intricately woven acts of duplicity, small battles erupt into bigger wars and a nation emerges from worlds in flux.
I had a few other books by Joseph Boyden that have been sitting on my TBR pile for some time. This book in particular was everywhere a few years ago so I was finally compelled to pick it up. I’ve enjoyed the other books of his that I’ve read so far so I was curious to read this book.
The scope of this book was quite epic in depicting life amongst the Indigenous people during the 17th century and the early days of the colonialisation of Canada. The French and the English are still at it, Jesuit missionaries are making their way across the land, learning the ways of the Indigenous whilst spreading the Word. Between the Huron and the Iroquois there are also tensions made worse by one Huron’s kidnapping of a young Iroquois girl. It was interesting to read the perspectives both of Christophe the Jesuit and his impressions of the Hurons and Iroquois against his own experiences and worldview as well as from Bird and Snow Falls and their worldview and impressions of Christophe and the French and how these opinions and lifestyles may clash and how events help overcome certain held beliefs (or not) or inform their actions.
As impressive as the scope and perspectives were, I admit that the story did lag a bit for me and lost my attention somewhere. It’s not light reading, certainly, and I guess you have to be in the right mood to read this. It was pretty tense reading at times and knowing in hindsight what happens in history with regards to the Indigenous peoples/First Nations and the results of colonialisation, it adds to the overall reading experience.
Nonetheless The Orenda was an interesting read in focusing on the Indigenous experience and the impact of colonialisation on their way of life. Certainly heftier on the reading side and whilst not my favourite book from the author, I can see why it was lauded the way it was by critics and awards. I can see this book being required reading for a Canadian, it was certainly a reminder of our nation’s past.