The latest tour de force from Canadian literary virtuoso Joseph Boyden takes us considerably further back in history than we’re used to going to Boyden. The story, as Boyden’s stories usually do, focuses on Canadian First Nations people, but rather than exploring the complexities of life on and off the reserve in the twentieth or twenty-first centuries, The Orenda takes us back to the seventeenth century, when French missionaries were just beginning to make inroads into First Nations communities deep in the Canadian forests.
The point of view in this novel shifts between three main characters: Bird, a Huron warrior, Snow Falls, a young Algonquin girl, and Christophe, a Jesuit missionary from France. The alternating points of view give us believable glimpses into the world of both the aboriginal and European characters, and the ongoing conflict between Algonquin and Huron characters prevents the novel from ever slipping into “noble savage” stereotypes. The reader is reminded that pre-European-contact aboriginal culture was far more developed and complex than the European explorers and missionaries were capable of appreciating, but that it was also a culture with its own conflicts and violence.
I found this a very well-written and compelling read, drawing me into a world I have not read much about, from a variety of interesting perspectives.