Reading The Orenda isn't for the faint of heart. All of Joseph Boyden's books have illuminated difficult subjects and terrible experiences. His newest novel is difficult, indeed.
The Orenda takes place near Lake Huron in the 1600's. Boyden opens the story after a battle between the Huron and the Iroquois. Bird, the Huron leader, has killed a young girl's parents and brother in battle but has taken her captive. The party is on the run now for the Iroquois will take revenge if they can and it is imperative the Huron return to their own territory.
Christophe (or Crow as the Huron call him because of his black robes) is the Jesuit priest they have brought with them from Kebec. His observations give an insight into how foreign the Huron culture is to the even though they are allies.
Bird is a leader of the Bear people and as he tells his story, we see how the Huron are led to war, how they treasure family and how cooperation allows them all to survive the harsh winters. He adopts Snow Falls, his Iroquois captive, for he is alone and his wife and children were murdered by Iroquois.
Snow Falls hates Bird and the Huron. She looks for ways to die so she can join her family and she gains Bird's respect and admiration when she uses a sharp clam shell to cut off his finger as he sleeps. The shell slips and she loses her own finger as well. This is the beginning of a bond.
These three main characters narrate The Orenda. Nothing is glossed or prettified. The horrific tortures perpetrated by the Inquisition and the Huron and Iroquois are described in detail. The hardships of the climate, devastations of native populations by European diseases, the violence of the wars are all there. The story has no "right" side. Both the Jesuit priests' and the natives' views (as depicted by Bird and Snow Falls) show how complicated the lives were these people led. Myth and legend and spirituality are intertwined.
The Orenda is a complex, moving book. The torture scenes are hard to read and Boyden cried as he wrote them. The family life of the Huron is wonderful. Children are revered. Men love their wives and there are happy, carefree times. The changes brought by the fur trade influence the lives of everyone. The Orenda explores a time of great change and discovery, showing that Canada's early history is steeped in blood, war and upheaval.
I have my rules about reading and in reading The Book Thief, I broke one of them. I don't usually read YA books and it's likely that as a woman of a certain vintage, vampires, werewolves and teenage dystopias just don't appeal to me. Factor in that my time is limited to read the good adult books that are out there and I don't often pick up a YA novel.
A confession: another reading rule I believe in, is that no movie ever compares favourably with the book. It can be a wonderful film but the experience is never as good. I stumbled onto The Book Thief by seeing the trailer for its movie on tv. It hooked me like a clever book trailer so I put a hold in at the local library.
I have to say I loved Markus Zusak's characters. The setting is Molching, a small town near Dachau, the Nazi death camp. Death is the narrator and as the story unfolds, he becomes more and more sympathetic. Liesle Memeniger is the protagonist, an 11 year-old girl who is sent to live with foster parents for safety. She never sees her mother again. Her foster father is a delightful man who is an accordianst, not the best musician but because he plays from the heart as he does everything, his playing is popular. Liesle doesn't find her foster mother sympathetic until she comes to realize the softness beneath her hard exterior. And then there is Rudy, the boy her age who becomes her best friend. There is an innocent attraction that she never acknowledges and that is one of her great regrets.
For ordinary Germans in WW11, there were many hardships. This is one of the few books that shows that the war killed and starved the common German people. They were abused by the Nazis, too. There is even a Jewish runaway who is hidden by Liesle's new family. Markus Zusak's book is sad and yet affirms the strength of the human spirit. There is hatred and horror in the world but there are good, resilient people, too.
The Book Thief was first published in 2005. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it. If you know a young person who hasn't read it yet, it would make a great gift.
I am an avid reader and like to share some of my "finds" with others.