Eloquently written through the alternating views of its three main protagonists, Boyden throws us headfirst into the moral/societal conflicts that would have presented themselves as European values clashed with Canada's resident, Aboriginal life-force. It is the historically tumultuous time of "First Contact".
We get really close to the characters, and Boyden's masterful (I'm likening him to our Canadian Faulkner) narrative technique makes it such that we too, feel torn between choices that could affect our very survival--physically or spiritually. The narrative style also serves to attenuate any blind romanticism one might have towards the Canadian landscape, or any of the novel's characters for that matter. A sense of realism prevails, and this adds depth to the book.
It also goes without saying that the novel is a great counterpoint to narratives that objectify First Nations existence as any one thing...the worst depiction being that of the "Sauvage" treading blindly in a loincloth. As its title suggests, "The Orenda" deals with the multitudinous nature of all living things: things are not so easily reduced to simple answers. Indeed, some might say that this is what the Seventeeth Century Jesuits, ultimately, were most want to discover. Aboriginal society in Canada was not only well-established and diverse, it also had--contrary to Colonial propaganda--very moral, magnanimous, and complex spiritual beliefs.
At a relatively young age, Boyden has become a truly great novelist. Where other writers idealize and/or moralize in their work, Boyden is bold in seeking the most unhewn and alive intersection(s) of human conflict...the very air and trees. "The Orenda" is a powerful novel of sight, sound, and smell.
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