"The Orenda" by Joseph Boyden

Snow Falls, a young Iroquois girl, has witnessed the brutal murder of her family at the hands of a Huron warrior.  That warrior, Bird, sees in her the ghost of his murdered daughter and recognizes the special powers that Snow Falls possesses so he kidnaps her to take on the rest of his journey.  One member of Bird's group is Christophe, a Jesuit missionary who has devoted himself to learning the language and culture of the Huron in the hopes that he can bring them to Christ.

Bird's tribe have long been at war with other tribes but now they are facing a bigger threat, one that comes from overseas.  As we follow Snow Falls, Bird, and Christophe, we see a people desperately trying to hold on to their way of life and a people trying to lead them to a new life.  As these two worlds collide, life changes dramatically for everyone.

The Orenda is Joseph Boyden's incredible new novel that looks at the beginnings of our country and takes readers on an incredible journey into the history of our First Nations people.

Quite a few words come to mind when I think of this novel - sweeping, powerful, epic, breathtaking.  This is one of those novels that you think no one could undertake, that it just can't be written in a way that gets across the true story.  How does one put to the page the violence and savagery of people on both sides of the conflict while remaining respectful?   How can you accurately portray both the beauty and horror of generations of people?  But Boyden has done just that.

At the Word on the Street Festival in Toronto this year, Boyden explained the process of writing this novel.  He said how it took him two and a half years to write the first 50 pages of the book because of the burden that was on him to tell the story right.  But after receiving the blessings of First Nations elders to write this book, it took him only 14 months to write the next almost 450 pages.

I loved the art of storytelling used in this book.  There isn't one big main event, there isn't one main theme.  Rather, it is an overall history of a people, beautifully told.  You don't even notice the length of the novel, you're just wrapped up in the book.  Yes, at times it is violent and gruesome but set against the rest of the story it is necessary and acceptable.  

The Orenda is one of those books.  When people talk of the great Canadian novel, this will surely be mentioned.  It will be discussed in classrooms for years to come.  But this novel is not just a Canadian book, it's bigger than that and one I highly recommend to all readers.


  1. With Boyden it is almost a guarantee that anything he writes will be brilliant.


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