The winner of this year’s Canada Reads is The Orenda by Joseph Boyden. This story artfully weaves together the different worlds of the Hurons and the Jesuits in early New France.
The Orenda, (the word is Huron for ‘lifeforce’), is set in the early years of the French settlement of Canada and chronicles a fictional encounter between the native peoples and the French Jesuits sent to establish a mission in the New World. Three main characters illuminate the relationships and conflicts between groups – Bird, chief of the Huron , Snow Falls, the Iroquois girl kidnapped as an act of vengeance, and Christophe, a French Jesuit priest. The Hurons and the Jesuits each have their own worldview and see the other as both dangerous and admirable. Diseases brought by the Europeans leave the Huron population decimated and nearly defenceless against the Iroquois. The clash between the Huron and the Iroquois is brutal, as it its aftermath.
The Orenda exhibits a deep humanity. Though the worlds of the Huron and the French are so different, there are the common human traits of love, joy and respect; sometimes between the different, clashing cultures but certainly evident within their own.
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