6 Things you need to know about The Orenda


The Orenda is one of the five contenders for Canada Reads 2014. Journalist, aboriginal activist and hip-hop artist Wab Kinew chose it as the book he will defend during the debates March 3-6 on CBC Radio, CBC Books and CBC-TV. 

If you haven't had time to read Joseph Boyden's novel yet, we've got that covered! The Canada Reads team is here to give you what you need to know about this book so you can head to that cocktail party (or, uh, book club -- we won't tell!) with confidence.

1.The orenda is a spiritual force


The orenda is an ubiquitous and spiritual force that informs the lives of the First Nations people. The Iroquois and Huron people traditionally believe that everything has an orenda, from people to animals to bodies of water. When the Europeans observed this belief upon first contact they regarded it as similar to the Catholic belief in the soul, except that the orenda extended to nature, not just humans.

2. The Orenda takes place 400 years ago


The story unfolds within the borders of what is modern day Ontario (formerly Upper Canada). The Orenda begins as new clashes are forming and Europeans are starting to make contact. It's four centuries before Confederation and the Canada we know today does not exist yet. The Europeans may think they are encountering a primitive society but the First Nations civilization has been thriving and existing as a complex system for over 10,000 years, and Boyden shows that this history is a force to be reckoned with.

3. The novel details the wars between the Iroquois and Huron


Before the Europeans arrived, the First Nations had their own battles to fight -- those between each other. The Orenda details one epic and drawn-out battle in particular between the Iroquois (also referred to as the Haudenosaunee) and the Huron (also known as the Wendat). The battles between these two nations is ongoing and blood is constantly being spilled to avenge previous grievances.

While violence is not the defining trait of the Huron and Iroquois, Boyden does not hold back on the violence either. "It is a novel of violence," Boyden told Shelagh Rogers on The Next Chapter. "There is the elephant in the room of violence in the time period and I wanted to address that immediately. I wanted to say yes there was violence, yes people killed each other and tortured each other."

4. It also describes the first contact between the First Nations and the French


The Orenda shows the beginning of the contact between the Europeans and the First Nations. The story opens with the induction of one Jesuit priest, Christophe, into the Huron Nation. He is an observer and quiet missionary at first but then slowly converts people to Catholicism and becomes a bigger force in the community. He is welcomed into the nation with a combination of skepticism and hospitality.

5. The story is told from three perspectives


Joseph Boyden weaves the perspectives of three people together to tell his story. They are all in the same village, but come from different nations.

Bird is a respected Huron elder. His family was killed by Iroquois warriors so he takes a girl from their tribe as a replacement for his own daughter and to avenge his family's death.

That young Iroquois girl is named Snow Falls. She's headstrong and possesses special powers that others also recognize in her.

The third perspective is Christophe's, the Jesuit priest. He's a true believer and willing to die for his mission to convert the First Nations people to Catholicism.

6. The Orenda is the most recent book on the listorenda-584.jpg

The Orenda was published in the fall of 2013, and topped many of the best of the year lists. It was a finalist for the 2013 Governor General's Literary Award for English fiction and was longlisted for the 2013 Scotiabank Giller Prize.

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