Thursday, May 15, 2014

Review: The Orenda by Joseph Boyden

The Orenda: A novelThe Orenda: A novel by Joseph Boyden
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"The Orenda," by Canadian writer Joseph Boyden, is a throughly researched, well-written work of literary historical fiction ... and yet I struggled with it at times and I would not recommend it to most of my friends. I would rate it about a 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Boyden masterfully recreates the world of 17th century Canada, and the initial contact between the Huron, Iroquois, and Europeans. The prose is often vivid and beautiful. Boyden shifts between three narrators--the Iroquois girl Bird, the Huron warrior Snow Falls, and the French Jesuit missionary Christophe--but their voices are surprisingly indistinct. At times, I had trouble distinguishing one narrator from another. The characters were not as well developed as I would have liked, and consequently I had trouble connecting with them.

My larger problem with "The Orenda" is that the narrative includes multiple scenes of great brutality, including very gory ritualized torture, which were difficult to take. I understand that a realistic account of the early New World cannot exclude some violence. But Boyden's depiction of torture seemed excessive and unnecessary, and without assistance to the reader in understanding and contextualizing the meaning of it.

This novel won critical acclaim and literary prizes in Canada, but I wonder if it will find much of an audience with American readers, even those who love good literary fiction.

I won a free copy of this book through the Goodreads First Reads program.

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