The Orenda by Joseph Boyden is a historical and an anthropological masterpiece. Set in the 1600s in the Canadian wilderness, the story follows 2 warring tribes, the Iroquois & the Huron. The chapters alternate in first person narrative between Bird, one of leaders of the Huron Tribe, Snow Falls, a young girl abducted by Bird as a child to keep as his own daughter and lastly, the Crow, a priest from the French Jesuit Missionary. The relationship between Bird and Snow, the Crow’s propaganda to spread Christianity and its contrast to the Native American mysticism and beliefs, their sense of community, all against a backdrop of violence and terror in the constant warring between the 2 tribes creates such an atmospheric read.
While initially, I found the Crow’s chapters and religious propaganda annoying, he provides a very important and interesting perspective. At the same you can’t help but find the Native American beliefs and practices completely fascinating.
Boyden doesn’t shy away from describing the explicit brutality of torture methods and scenes that the Native American warring tribes used against each other. Neither does he shy away from the profound love and generosity and sense of family seen within each tribe. He manages to create such a strong sense of place, its almost unparalleled in anything I have ever read so far. Through mere words, he transports the reader to a time and terrain as unfamiliar yet as authentic as it could possibly be in stunning, simplistic prose.
I acknowledge the fact that this book might not be for everyone (If torture is a trigger warning, there is a particular chapter called ‘Caressing’ which could be skipped without losing the essence of the story).
The Orenda encapsulates the story of a shared history of a nation in flux. The stories and perspectives of the 3 souls interweave intricately creating a tapestry of manipulation, conflicting belief, social and political constructs and clash of culture culminating in such an end that could neither be predicted nor contrived. This book is so incredible in scope, so unique in structure, and so present in it’s time that you will not regret reading it.