History reveals itself when, in the 17th century, a Jesuit missionary ventures into the Canadian wilderness in search of converts - the defining moment of first contact between radically different worlds. What unfolds over the next several years is truly epic, constantly illuminating and surprising, sometimes comic, always entrancing, and ultimately all too human in its tragic grandeur.
Christophe has been in the New World only a year when his native guides abandon him to flee their Iroquois pursuers. A Huron warrior and elder named Bird soon takes him prisoner, along with a young Iroquois girl, Snow Falls, whose family he has just killed, and holds them captive in his massive village. Champlain's Iron People have only recently begun trading with the Huron, who mistrust them as well as this Crow who has now trespassed on to their land; and her people, of course, have become the Huron's greatest enemy. Putting both to death would resolve the issue, but Bird sees Christophe as a potential envoy to those in New France, and Snow Falls as a replacement for his two daughters who were murdered by the Iroquois.
The relationships between these three are reshaped again and again as life comes at them relentlessly: A dangerous trading mission, friendly exchanges with allied tribes, shocking victories and defeats in battle, and sicknesses the likes of which no one has ever witnessed.
The Orenda traces a story of blood and hope, suspicion and trust, hatred and love, that comes to a head when Jesuit and Huron join together against the stupendous wrath of the Iroquois, when everything that any of them has ever known or believed faces nothing less than annihilation. A saga nearly 400 years old, it is also timeless and eternal.
©2013 Joseph Boyden (P)2014 Recorded Books
I learned a lot listening to this book. It gave me a better understanding of this period of history in eastern Canada, and also helped me appreciate the Huron's deep connection to the natural world. The book is VERY explicitly violent, which I did not like, but the culture of the Iroquois and Hurons was very violent and the book just presents that reality. The author does a great job of character development. Naration is excellent.
I've read a few novels on the subject of the interactions between the French missionaries and the First Nations in North America during the 17th century, and this one is essential reading if you're interested in the subject. Boyden has clearly set out to immerse himself in both cultures and to try to give each an equal amount of respect. The missionaries are naive and arrogant but are also brave and have integrity in their spiritual beliefs. The native belief system and way of life is made fully comprehensible and possible for the reader to identify with yet Boyden doesn't sentimentalize the First Nations into New Age hippies - he pulls no punches in depicting their culture as patriarchal and militaristic. It's an amazing depiction of two worlds that feel intensely real and are trying to understand each other. And the plot never goes in the directions that you think it will.
I should also warn listeners of a sensitive disposition that the novel contains numerous detailed and intensely disturbing descriptions of the long, drawn-out tortures of prisoners that dominated the wars between the Huron and the Iroquois. It is the stuff of nightmares and while it's essential to the plot and themes, many listeners will find it hard to deal with.
Although I found the novel fascinating on an intellectual level, the characters and story sometimes left me cold and felt a little flat. The main problem is that although the two cultures are presented with superb complexity, the three protagonists are excessively good-hearted and admirable, to the extent that they feel rather cardboard when compared with the minor characters. This problem is exacerbated by the three readers, who are all competent but never exciting. This makes parts of the novel drag.
Overall though, this is essential reading for anyone with a strong stomach and an interest in the subject.
Ceremonial real-life exposed.
The Huron leader's trusted friend is loyal and courageous, undaunted, a warrior.
The voices of the three main characters are extremely well differentiated.
The jesuit priest is so dogged in his missionary work, so disrespectful of the orenda, and his death is correspondingly marked with the respectfulness of his "sauvages".
Joseph Boyden brings to life that time in history (around the 16th century).
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