Monday, September 9, 2013

Joseph Boyden in New France

I'm dying to get my hands on Joseph Boyden’s latest novel, The Orenda (Hamish Hamilton, September 2013; not to be confused with Kate Cameron's Orenda: A Novel of the Iroquois Nation published by Random House in 1991).  Were I more of a hipster, I might take this opportunity to proclaim that I've been into Boyden since before he was cool.  Don't get me wrong: Three Day Road (Penguin, 2008) deserved the universal acclaim it received, but Born With a Tooth (Cormorant Books, 2001) too was a delight -- dare I say that it already presaged greatness?  It doesn't have anything to do with New France, but read do read it if you enjoy good literature.

Boyden's latest book does have something to do with New France.  He turns from the twentieth century to the seventeeth, and explores the delicate and dramatic relations between Aboriginal peoples and Jesuit missionaries.  Here is the publishers' blurb :
The Orenda opens with a brutal massacre and the kidnapping of the young Iroquois Snow Falls, a spirited girl with a special gift. Her captor, Bird, is an elder and one of the Huron Nation’s great warriors and statesmen. It has been years since the murder of his family and yet they are never far from his mind. In Snow Falls, Bird recognizes the ghost of his lost daughter and sees the girl possesses powerful magic that will be useful to him on the troubled road ahead. Bird’s people have battled the Iroquois for as long as he can remember, but both tribes now face a new, more dangerous threat from afar.
Christophe, a charismatic Jesuit missionary, has found his calling amongst the Huron and devotes himself to learning and understanding their customs and language in order to lead them to Christ. An emissary from distant lands, he brings much more than his faith to the new world.
As these three souls dance each other through intricately woven acts of duplicity, small battles erupt into bigger wars and a nation emerges from worlds in flux.
In an interview with Maclean's, Boyden explains: “It seemed like the right time for a story I grew up immersed in”.  As a child he spent summers on Christian Island in Georgian Bay, where many Wendats (Hurons) fled in 1649, and attended Brébeuf College, named for one of the Jesuit martyrs. “Even if I did my best to get kicked out of that school—right down to a Mohawk haircut—I think my Jesuit education stuck.”

A Black Robe for the 21st century?  Whereas Brian Moore's 1985 novel andits 1991 film adaptation followed a Jesuit protagonist, the narrative voice in The Orenda deftly shifts from Bird the Wendat, to Snow Falls the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois), and Christophe the Jesuit.  In Boyden's version, by the way, the Jesuit is not a Black Robe, but a "Crow".
The Globe and Mail has a book review on Boyden's Orenda.


No comments:

Post a Comment