I've previously visited them and one of the things I most enjoy about seeing them is that they have a huge library of books, all of which they've read, and continue to read. One wall of their living room is full of books as is another wall in an upstairs loft. They are both voracious readers. Cynthia worked for me at one time and she continues to regularly put forth practical wisdom in the archdiocesan newspaper. She and her husband Ed continue to travel as well given that their family is scattered from the East coast to Europe. One family member, their eldest son, a retired naval officer, was in an English comp and lit class I taught about 40 years ago.
I am always eager to catch up on Ed and Cynthia's lives and adventures and reading. They are regular participants in conferences about Ernest Hemingway and are looking forward to one in his home town Oak Park, Illinois, in the coming year.
This year I told them of discovering a new book of fiction and for me a new writer. "The Orenda" is a book I couldn't put down and yet it is a book that did not leave me with warm, fuzzy feelings. Narrated by three different people, the story relates the clash of cultures between two tribes of native Americans and the French Jesuit missionaries of New France in the 17th century. Bird is a Wendat (Huron) who has killed an Iroquois family taking the daughter as his own. The daughter, named Snow Falls, does everything she can to alienate Bird but eventually comes to accept her new life. A French Jesuit missionary priest named Christophe is abandoned by his native guides and taken prisoner by Bird. All three provide the narration, obviously from different perspectives and motives, and the novel moves relentlessly toward a tragic end.
Christophe seeks converts. Bird seeks the welfare of his tribe, dependent on agriculture, and now prepares to move them to a new place as their planting grounds have become exhausted. Snow Falls only wants to return to her people. Each wants to outdo the other.
The title is a word defined as " all objects force by or accounted
I came across the book while working at the Jesuit Martyrs' Shrine in Midland, Ontario this past summer. Someone there told me about this novel by a Canadian writer that was apparently quite popular in Canada. Published in 2013 it is the third novel of Joseph Boyden and I enjoyed it such that I now want to read more of his work. When I told Ed and Cynthia about this, Cynthia commented to me that she thought it was exciting not just to find a new book one enjoys reading but to find a new author and to want to read more of that author's writing.
Though historical fiction, Boyden takes liberties with his characters and events. The story roughly follows that of the Jesuit missionaries in New France. Christophe is modeled on Jean de Brebeuf though he often exhibits much less compassion and understanding of the natives than the Jesuit relations, the letters the missionaries sent back to France, convey. Two other Jesuits who arrive later - one named Gabriel and the other named Isaac - suggest Gabriel Lalemant and Isaac Jogues. In fact, the Isaac in the novel had his fingers chewed off in torture by the natives as the real Isaac Jogues did. But the novel's Isaac also loses his mental stability toward the end and attempts to poison everyone as the Iroquois attack so they may avoid similar torture.
The book is not an easy read because of the narrative style and because it is quite graphic in its depiction of torture. What helped put the story in perspective, however, and what left me with a very slight glimmer of hope, was the book's last line as Bird invokes his native goddess's wisdom. "What's happened in the past can't stay in the past (because) the future is always just a breath away. Now is what's most important. Orenda can't be lost, just misplaced. The past and the future are present."