Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Orenda by Joseph Boyden

Oh man…
I'm not even sure how or where to begin with my feelings towards this book. I'd heard that it is gruesome, which, fine, I'm okay with in context to a larger story, in keeping with the norms of the time, 1600s New World in this case, but page after page of relentless, graphic, anatomically detailed ritualistic torture meted out by the Natives on their captured enemies was so stomach turning that the rest of the story was lost on me. If there is a greater message or theme in this book, I didn't get it. It's too bad, really, because Joseph Boyden is one of my favorite Canadian authors, his Three Day Road and Through Black Spruce being among my all time favorite books, both of which deal with heavy topics and a moderate amount of contextual violence, but in no way to the distracting extent that this latest book does.

The Orenda opens with the kidnapping of Snow Falls, a spirited Iroquois girl with a special gift. Her captor, Bird, is an elder and one of the Huron Nation's great warriors and statesmen. Although it's been years since the murder of his family members, they're never far from his mind. In Snow Falls, Bird recognizes the ghost of his lost daughter; he sees the girl possesses powerful magic, something useful to him and his people on the troubled road ahead. The Huron Nation has battled the Iroquois for as long as Bird can remember, but both tribes now face a new, more dangerous peril from afar.
Christophe does not see himself as a threat, however. A charismatic Jesuit missionary, he has found his calling amongst the Huron, devoting himself to learning and understanding their customs and language in order to lead them to Christ. As an emissary from distant lands, he brings much more, though, than his faith to the new world.
As these three souls dance one another through intricately woven acts of duplicity, small battles erupt into bigger wars, and a nation emerges from worlds in flux. Powerful and deeply moving, The Orenda traces a story of blood and hope, suspicion and trust, hatred and love. A saga nearly four hundred years old, it is at its roots timeless and eternal. (inside flap)


Debbie Rodgers said...

Yours is the first review I've seen for Orenda and I'm really disappointed to hear about its contents. Joseph Boyden is one of my favourite authors, too but I don't think I could stomach what you've described. :-(

Trish said...

It's too bad, isn't it? I'm actually not surprised to see it didn't make it to the Giller short list. This book felt like he is trying too hard, which he really doesn't need to do. He's a fabulous storyteller already and I think this book would have been much, much better had he been more restrained in his depiction of torture. I appreciate that he's aiming to be historically accurate but I don't need to have something go on and on for pages at a time to, what? to REALLY appreciate it? No. It stalls the story and forces my defenses up.
It got a lot of positive press but now I'm wondering what others like me in the general reading public will think of it.