Joseph Boyden burst on the Canadian literary scene with Three Day Road in 2005, a novel about two young Cree men who volunteer in the First World War, becoming snipers. It was followed up by Through Black Spruce, set in Moosonee Ontario and narrated by Will Bird and his niece Annie Bird with the narration switching between chapters. Will, a former bush pilot, is in a coma. Over the course of the novel, Will recounts the events of the previous year which led to him being in a coma to his nieces, Annie and Suzanne. Meanwhile, in the present day, Annie recounts the previous year of her life and her visits to Toronto, Montreal, and New York City to Will in an attempt to help revive him from his coma.
The Orenda, taking its title from the Huron cognate of Mohawk (orę́˙naʔ /inherent power or song), tells the story of indigenous rivalries and battles during the 17th century and the incursion of Jesuits into the situation. Boyden’s narrative is relatively simple: three characters take the reins, and the story unfolds more or less chronologically. In no particular order, the narrators are: Christophe, a Francophone Jesuit missionary; Snow Falls, an Iroquois teen of the Haudenosaunee nation kidnapped by the Wendats (a Huron nation); and Bird, a warrior mourning and avenging the deaths of his wife and two daughters at the hands of the Iroquois. This is a magnificent and complex novel of intercultural conflict. Readers are cautioned regarding graphic depictions of violence.
“Boyden utilizes the tripartite narrative to examine what all three characters learn about themselves and others — and, in turn, what we learn about ‘them’ and ‘us,’ then and now. The Orenda, over nearly 500 pages, is Boyden’s struggle — as a writer, a Canadian, and a human being — to reconcile the irreconcilable.” —Quill & Quire