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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Spellbinding
I don't like all Brian Moore's books, but one thing is certain, his range is astonishing, and after reading Black Robe I became his totally starry-eyed fan.
It is a most unusual story, set in Canada, when the country was being settled by europeans, in the case of the east coast, mainly french.
However Moore got his facts about these dark times, I...
Published on 8 Feb. 2006 by K. Sewell

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Culture Shock
The action of "Black Robe" takes place in the year 1635 in what is today the Canadian province of Quebec, but which at that period formed part of the French colony of New France. It follows the journey of Father Paul Laforgue, a French Jesuit priest, who travels to an isolated mission station among the Huron Indians. Accompanying him are his young lay assistant, Daniel...
Published on 11 April 2010 by J C E Hitchcock


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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Spellbinding, 8 Feb. 2006
By 
K. Sewell (Cardiff, Wales) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Black Robe (Paladin Books) (Paperback)
I don't like all Brian Moore's books, but one thing is certain, his range is astonishing, and after reading Black Robe I became his totally starry-eyed fan.
It is a most unusual story, set in Canada, when the country was being settled by europeans, in the case of the east coast, mainly french.
However Moore got his facts about these dark times, I didn't care if they were true or fiction. The very human Jesuit priest that sets out into the wilderness to convert the "natives" encounters not only discomfort, danger and unspeakable horrors, but his own dark self.
I entered entirely into this world, as if I'd been there myself, which is a feat for any writer. For a most absorbing and unique experience, read this novel.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Culture Shock, 11 April 2010
By 
J C E Hitchcock (Tunbridge Wells, Kent, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Black Robe (Paladin Books) (Paperback)
The action of "Black Robe" takes place in the year 1635 in what is today the Canadian province of Quebec, but which at that period formed part of the French colony of New France. It follows the journey of Father Paul Laforgue, a French Jesuit priest, who travels to an isolated mission station among the Huron Indians. Accompanying him are his young lay assistant, Daniel Davost, whose main reason for undertaking the journey is that he has fallen in love with an Indian girl, and a group of
Algonkin Indians who act as their guides.

The novel is on one level a historical adventure story, but it can also be seen as a study of cultural differences. The French see the Indians as cruel and barbaric and generally refer to them as the Savages. (This is Brian Moore's rendition of the French term "les Sauvages", although he does not point out that this might also be translated as "the wild ones"; the French word "sauvage", unlike the English "savage", does not necessarily carry any implication of ferocity or viciousness). The Indians see the French as greedy and selfish because of their love of possessions and their reluctance to share what they have with others. The greatest cultural differences, however, lie in the area of religion. To the predominantly Catholic French, the spiritual beliefs of the native peoples are no more than primitive superstitions inspired by Satan. The Indians, however, see the French as stupid and ignorant because of their lack of understanding of a key element of the Indian belief system, namely that animals, plants and even inanimate objects such as rocks and rivers all have spirits of their own. They are particularly suspicious of Catholic priests (or "Black Robes") whom they see as sorcerers.

Moore is sometimes bracketed together with Graham Greene as a "Catholic novelist", but there was an important difference between them. Greene was brought up as an Anglican but converted to Catholicism as a young man. Moore, who was born in Belfast but spent most of his life in Canada or the United States, was a "cradle Catholic" who lost his faith but who nevertheless continued to deal with Catholic themes in his writing. It is therefore perhaps unsurprising that Laforgue also finds himself undergoing a loss of faith during his journey. He sets out full of zeal, willing to brave hardship and even the possibility of martyrdom, but later starts to doubt the Divine providence in which he had initially placed his trust.

There is a similarity between this book and Shusaku Endo's "Silence", another work by a "Catholic novelist" about the attempts of 17th century European missionaries to bring salvation to the "heathen" inhabitants of a distant part of the globe. Like Endo's hero Sebastian Rodrigues, Laforgue finds his faith challenged not only by physical suffering but by the spiritual and cultural "otherness" of the people among whom he is living. The question constantly in his mind is "could Christ really have died for such people?" For Daniel, the Indians are more Christ-like than the Europeans, and they do indeed have some positive qualities, such as their generosity and their powers of forgiveness. In other respects, however, they strike Laforgue as utterly alien and barbaric. Forgiveness can only be extended to members of one's own tribe; enemy tribes are treated with utter ruthlessness. The book's most harrowing scenes come when Laforgue and his party are captured by the Iroquois, the deadly enemies of the Algonkins, and subjected to horrifying tortures. Even those Indians who have converted to Christianity have not done so out of deep conviction or understanding of their new faith, but because they believe the "Black Robes" to be more powerful sorcerers than their own medicine men.

Some have criticised the book for the amount of foul language contained in it, although it is clear from Moore's "author's note" that this was done quite deliberately in order to give an idea of the Indians' way of speaking and to emphasise the cultural differences between the two sides. It would appear that in the Algonkin language it was commonplace to use sexual or scatological terms as expletives, something which the missionaries found deeply shocking. Something similar, of course, also happens in many European languages, but with the important difference that the Indians did not regard such usages as being vulgar, offensive or taboo in the way that we do.

The themes of cultural and religious differences are well handled, at least from the European perspective. None of the Indian characters are as powerfully drawn as Laforgue, even though Moore tries to relate part of the narrative from their point of view. This is, perhaps, only to have been expected from a European writer; it was doubtless much easier for him to think his way into the mind of a Jesuit priest than into the mind of a Native American. Moore may have rejected the Catholic faith of his youth, but would nevertheless have been very familiar with the Catholic mindset. (Endo perhaps handled his theme with greater balance; being Japanese by nationality and Catholic by religion he had, so to speak, a foot in both camps).

This was only the second of Moore's books which I have read, and I must say that I enjoyed it a lot more than the first, "The Colour of Blood", a dull and politically obtuse thriller set in the Eastern Europe of the 1980s. The book's main weakness was that it stuck too closely to the adventure-story format, culminating in a denouement which I found an implausible deus ex machina. (This particular plot device, moreover, is a very hackneyed one; it was used by Mark Twain in "A Connecticut Yankee" and by Rider Haggard in "King Solomon's Mines"). Nevertheless, Moore's handling of his central theme makes this a novel worth reading.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Intelligent storytelling by a master, 9 May 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: Black Robe (Paladin Books) (Paperback)
I must confess that in Moore's books I rediscovered the joy of reading after years of forcing myself through dire arty tomes. In "Black Robe" his storytelling genius is as spellbinding as ever. Not a word is wasted and it is a thrilling journey, yet he avoids the cliches of more popular (and much less intelligent) writers. Sometimes his magic touch falters - perhaps once or twice - but this is almost a good thing as the few flaws enable us to appreciate the skill of this gifted writer. The themes of religion, the clash of cultures, "civilisation" versus native cultures have all been dealt with before, but, amazingly you can never tell what will happen next. Without making anything feel contrived, and despite so many traditional writers preceding him, Moore proves a good, intelligent and surprising story - with power and depth despite its surface simplicity - can still be written.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mixed emotions, 13 July 2006
This review is from: Black Robe (Paladin Books) (Paperback)
I read this book for a course on Canadian literature and was very, very unsettled by it. I read 'Black Robe' in one sitting - it was that compelling - but on the other hand certain passages made me feel physically sick. Fascinating, if in parts repulsive. Highly recommended.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Harsh Physical and Spiritual Conflict, 5 Mar. 2014
By 
S. Smith (London UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Black Robe (Paladin Books) (Paperback)
Brian Moore's books cover a range of styles and vary considerably in quality. Those with Northern Irish themes often seem claustrophobic, as their characters a trapped, often both mentally and in a limited space. His “Black Robe” contrasts the sense of the physical space of a new world with the mental limitations of the Jesuit priests, the Black Robes of the title. This is one of Moore's more successful books, combining a strong and dramatic narrative with searching analyses of its main characters’ motives and is well worth reading.

The story is set in French Canada in the early 17th century, and follows the journey of a Jesuit missionary priest recently arrived from France, Father Laforgue, and his French assistant, Daniel, from Quebec through what to them is a wilderness to a mission station far into the interior among the Hurons. The narrative, which is partly based on Jesuit accounts, catalogues the difficulties of their journey with a group of Algonkians, their capture by rival Irquois, who kill or injure many of their group, the escape of the two Frenchmen and two Algonkians, and their eventual arrival at the distant settlement, where many of the Indians are dying of a fever. Laforgue persuades the survivors to become Christians, and the book ends with him vowing to spend the rest of his life among the Hurons who he has come to love, but not really to understand.

Besides the narrative of the journey, the book explores the cultural conflict and mutual lack of understanding between the French, particularly the Jesuits, and those they routinely call “savages”. The Jesuits were convinced that their religion, literacy and technology gave them superiority over the Indians, who they regarded as sinful and backward. The worst thing that Laforgue can imagine is for a Frenchman to give up his civilisation and religion by going native, although Daniel deserts him for a time for an Indian lover. Although Moore does not disguise the cruelty of the Indians, he sees them as having a rich culture which treated the world as a living network in which humans play a minor role. They regard the French and Jesuits as unsociable and selfish but as possessed of significant powers, including sorcery in the case of the Jesuits.

It is the combination of an interesting narrative and the examination of a culture which would soon disappear in conflict with a new, alien culture that makes this a very interesting read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Clash of Cultures, 16 Nov. 2009
By 
Ross Baxter "rossbax" (Derby, England.) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Black Robe (Paladin Books) (Paperback)
Black Robe covers a period and place in history rarely covered. Compelling and well written, it is not afraid to cover the excesses and the more unpleasent aspects of both European and North American (Canadian) indigenous cultures. Its handling of such aspects, in a frank and "no holds barred" manner, is quite refreshing, but can certainly be unsettling to the faint-hearted.
All in all a gripping and exciting tale, mixing history with an interesting insight into what happens when conflicting cultures meet head-on.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Great reading., 19 Jun. 2014
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This review is from: Black Robe (Paladin Books) (Paperback)
Very instructive!
Thrilling and powerful. Gets the reader close to what the ultimate question of all humans has always been: God? Which God? Why do we need to believe in a God? Do we?
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2.0 out of 5 stars too stark, 2 Jan. 2013
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This review is from: Black Robe (Paladin Books) (Paperback)
you have to be interested in this kind of history. I only read it for a book club, difficult to finish
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 11 Sept. 2014
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This review is from: Black Robe (Paladin Books) (Paperback)
Very good book. Very interesting subject
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Black Robe DVD, 23 Jan. 2013
By 
Geraldine Hansome "ferret" (peacehaven) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Black Robe (Hardcover)
A enjoyable DVD. It arrived on time and was suitable packed. It was as expected. The recipient liked it very much
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