I was a little apprehensive about reading The Orenda by Joseph Boyden. Not because of his writing, but because in this particular book I heard there are scenes of torture. Despite this, I decided to reserve it from the library to find out why everyone is reading it. When it came my turn to sign it out I still wasn’t sure about it, but decided to at least have a look at it.
From the first page I was drawn to the story of a time in Canadian history when things were changing for the natives with the encroachment of the Europeans wanting land and trading rights with the natives. I felt like I was reading a personal diary of a time in history I can only imagine.
Boyden wrote about the three main characters from a first person perspective allowing us to be fully present as the story unfolds. There is Crow, a Jesuit missionary who has come to convert the natives; Bird, as the leader of the Huron tribe; and Snow Falls, an Iroquois captive who Bird believes carries the spirit of his own daughter who was killed by the Iroquois, (along with his wife), years before.
It is through these three characters that the history of a people is told with only one possible outcome. Despite this I found myself hoping that things could be otherwise.
The tension builds to an unbearable pitch towards the end of the story to a point where I didn’t know how much more I could take. And yet there was a feeling of hope; that life and people carry on, even as things are lost.
As for the torture, it was there all right, and it was very realistic. I found myself holding the book away from me trying to distance myself from it. I didn’t feel the violence was gratuitous however, it is a part of our history. In fact I found it interesting to note that while the missionaries found the native torture barbarous, the Europeans also had their own kind of torture. Think of the Inquisition. Another interesting point is the natives sang a death song when they were being tortured to help them to get through it. The Jesuits also had a kind of death song, in the form of prayer. Both peoples loved, worshiped, had devotion to family, lived in communities, have pets and so on. It makes you wonder how different are we anyway?