The Orenda

orenda cover image The Orenda

by Joseph Boyden
Historical Fiction
Knopf
Hardcover, 448 pages
$26.95

This is Canadian author Joseph Boyden's third novel, and it is written with a sense of artful savage beauty. Boyden’s compassion for all his characters invites us to acknowledge the wholeness of the life force that Native Canadians call “the orenda”: a unity encompassing cruelty and kindness, ignorance and understanding, inevitable sorrow and joy the more precious for the knowledge of “where we all must journey” in the end.

This amazing journey is told through the eyes of three main characters: the Wendat warrior Bird; Snow Falls, the Iroquois girl he takes as his daughter after killing her family; and Christophe, one of the Jesuit priests derisively termed “crows” by the natives “for the way they hop around and peck at dead or dying things.” Epidemic, drought, crop blight, Western muskets and Catholic missions fatally interact to provoke the novel’s violent climax. This is not an easy or fast read, but you will hang on to every perfectly placed word as you travel on this emotional and tragic journey.