I like to match my vacation reading to my vacation destination. My pleasure in the book is enhanced, and my appreciation for the scene around me is deepened. Recently, I brought Joseph Boyden’s The Orenda with me on a trip to the rocky shores of Georgian Bay, the setting for much of the book. The story revolves around three characters: Bird, a Huron warrior who seeks vengeance for the death of his wife and daughters at the hands of the Iroquois; Snow Falls, a young Iroquois girl Bird abducts and adopts, and Christophe, a Jesuit missionary intent on turning the "savages" away from their satanic ways and towards Christ.
This is a dramatic tale of warring tribes, and clashing cultures, set at a crucial point in history, the beginning of French colonization in the 1600s. But it is also about the everyday life of the Huron, the cycles of planting and harvesting the "three sisters" (squash, corn and beans), their spiritual beliefs, such as the conviction that everything in the natural world -- animals, trees, lakes -- has a spiritual force, or orenda, and their customs, such as the Feast of the Dead, in which the bones of the dead are dug up, lovingly cleaned, and richly dressed and displayed in a festival of gift giving, mourning and feasting that lasts for days.
In interviews, Boyden has said that one of the reasons he wanted to write the book was to make it clear that before European colonization there were complex societies living in North America for thousands of years. Reading The Orenda made me want to know more about these societies, their beliefs and customs, and their early interactions with Europeans. The books Boyden read when doing research for the novel would be a great place to start. At the end of the novel, Boyden lists some of the books which he said "deeply enriched" his work. I was delighted to discover that every book Boyden credits in his acknowledgments is available in the Toronto Public Library. Here is the list:
Words of the Huron. John Steckley.
The children of Aataentsic: a history of the Huron people to 1660. Bruce G. Trigger.
The death and afterlife of the North American Martyrs. Emma Anderson.
Huronia: a history and geography of the Huron Indians, 1600-1650. Conrad E. Heidenreich.
Huron-Wendat: the heritage of the circle. Georges E. Sioui.
An ethnography of the Huron Indians, 1615-1649. Elisabeth Tooker. (reference only, at North York Central Library, Canadiana Department, and Toronto Reference Library)
If you enjoyed The Orenda, or Boyden's other critically acclaimed books, Three day road, Through black spruce, or Born with a tooth, get a nice bright marker and circle Tuesday September 30 on your calendar. That's the day Joseph Boyden, the "literary rock star" (as dubbed by Now Magazine) who grew up in North York is coming home to speak at North York Central Library. The fun begins at 7:00 p.m. Please call 416-395-5639 to register for this free program.
The Orenda is available in the following formats:
Three day road is available in the following formats:
Through black spruce is available in the following formats:
Born with a tooth (short stories) is available in the following formats: