Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Orenda by Joseph Boyden

It's time for another installment of Damn, Lizzie Loves the Canadians. The latest addition to the "Oh, Canon-da!" reading list is The Orenda by Joseph Boyden. Love big epic novels with plenty of action? Love great characters who seem like real people? Love historical fiction that doesn't get lost in the details? Love moments of humanity and brutality and not being able to guess where a book is going? Love The Orenda.

Author Joseph Boyden.
The "orenda" is the spirit that connects all things in the world, from people to animals to trees, and in Boyden's novel, all things are connected even when they come from different worlds. Set in the 17th Century, the book begins with a Jesuit missionary, Christophe, running for his life. He has swallowed his fears and set off to find the "sauvages" and convert them to Christianity, but he is walking into the middle of a war. In colonial North America, French are fighting English and Huron are fighting Iroquois, and natives are fighting colonists. The world is full of mistrust and danger. Christophe's guides abandon him when they believe that the Iroquois are tracking them, and when he's convinced he will quickly and violently die. A Huron warrior named Bird, a leader of his tribe, finds Christophe and takes him prisoner. Along with the missionary, Bird takes an Iroquois girl named Snow Falls, whose family he has just killed. Snow Falls will become Bird's daughter, and all three will travel together and settle into the Huron village.
Look closely--the cover looks and feels like
birch bark. It's a really nice effect and a
gorgeous jacket (and book).

The Orenda is told from the alternating perspectives of these three characters, each adding insights into their surroundings and the other characters. This is a violent world--as one might imagine, Snow Falls is not thrilled to become the daughter of the guy who slaughtered her family, and well, Bird didn't need that pinky finger, right? Christophe is a mystery and his ways are bizarre to the villagers; they call him "the crow" because of his black missionary attire. Joseph Boyden's book, though, is also full of moments of appreciation for natural beauty and a deep affection for these characters and the others in the village. Bird worries about the changing world as he assumes more responsibility for his people. This is a multi-layered, rich novel that sucks in the reader, and Joseph Boyden is a first rate novelist who's won major awards. Could this novel win the Pulitzer or Booker? Absolutely.

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