“O Canada! Our home and native land!” Indeed, The Orenda by Joseph Boyden is about native ‘Canadians’ during the 17th century, in a place nowadays known as Canada. It is about the hard times including both violence between tribes and deadly diseases. The story has three narrators; a Huron warrior called Bird, an Iroquois girl known as Snow Falls, and Christophe (Crow), a French Jesuit missionary.
Bird became an orphan because of the Haudenosaunees. He wants revenge, and while on a killing spree he kidnaps Snow Falls. Bird adopts her, but she does not accept him as a father, because he killed her real family. Christophe has also been taken by the Hurons, and he feels like his mission is to convert them to become god fearing Christians
The book is filled with stories of harsh weather, war, slaughter, death, and violence. I guess life back then could have been like this. Nature ruled, and only the toughest survived. Tribes were at war at all times, but the plague took out even more people than warfare. The ending is sad. Death is lurking behind every corner, and unfortunately too few face an unnatural death.
The book is well-written, and it’s easy to read. However, telling the story from three different points of views, retelling the same tale over and over again, is not my thing. The Orenda tells the story of how Canada became Canada, and how different tribes became one nation, but later on. The strong Hurons and their nation did not survive the European diseases, and the Huron nation was no more. The book tells us the Hurons could have changed this by co-operating with their arch enemy, the Iroquois, and fighting together against the new enemies, which of course now, hundreds of years later, makes sense. Things rarely go according to plan. Greed destroys, even the strong Hurons. The plague takes what is left.
There are some genius insights, and interesting twists and turns, if you look past all the violence. Historical fiction is an interesting genre, because we think we know something about “way back in the days”, but how much do we really know? How much can an author mix and match proven history and pure fiction? This is a rhetorical question. There does not seem to be many fictional novels about 17th century Canada, so this book is definitely a welcomed addition.