After a week of vigorous debate, one novel has triumphed in CBC's annual Canada Reads literary battle: Joseph Boyden's The Orenda, which was defended this week by First Nations journalist Wab Kinew.

Set in the 17th century, Boyden's 2013 historical bestseller explores the tumultuous relationships between indigenous groups and settlers in the days before the formation of Canada. It was a contender for the Governor General's Award and longlisted for the Giller Prize.

"I’m shaking. I’m in Thunder Bay and I’m shaking not because of the cold," Boyden said via telephone, immediately after his novel was announced as the 2014 winner.

"What an amazing group of writers to be surrounded by and the panellists were all amazing," he declared.

Wab Kinew

Wab Kinew defended Joseph Boyden's The Orenda for the 2014 edition of Canada Reads. (Farhang Ghajar/CBC)

Earlier this week, philanthropist and panellist Stephen Lewis vigorously debated the novel's graphic depiction of torture with Kinew.

Boyden admitted that he had listened to the debates all week and that hearing criticism of his book, "at times it was painful for sure, but we’re all writers. We all have to take that once in awhile."

He also noted that he had started a Twitter hashtag for his champion Kinew: #WabKinewforPrimeMinister.

"This [book] is for the people," Kinew said. "It's not just lessons on being a good Indian, but lessons on how to be a good human being in here."

The Orenda won over Rawi Hage's Cockroach, which was defended this week by writer, comedian and The Daily Show correspondent Samantha Bee.

The contemporary, darkly humorous 2008 novel explores the alienation of a nameless immigrant in Montreal struggling with depression and the underbelly of the immigrant experience in Canada. The book was shortlisted for the Giller Prize, the Governor General's Literary Award and the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize.

The usually humorous Bee grew emotional in her final defence of Cockroach, arguing that its exploration of the dark side of the immigrant experience was imperative given areas of turmoil around the world today, like Syria.

The other contenders eliminated earlier this week, and their respective champions, were:

  • Margaret Atwood's The Year of the Flood, defended by Lewis.
  • Esi Edugyan's Half-Blood Blues, defended by Olympic gold medallist Donovan Bailey.
  • Kathleen Winter's Annabel, defended by actor Sarah Gadon.

The novels selected this year were chosen in accordance with the 2014 theme: what is the one novel that could change Canada?

The goal was to find a book that could change the hearts, minds and lives of readers across the nation, with the ultimate goal of inspiring social change.

Past Canada Reads winners have included: The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill, February by Lisa Moore, Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O’Neill and The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis.

As the annual competition has grown in recognition over the years, a phenomenon known as “the Canada Reads effect” has emerged where the five competitors see a spike in sales, with both a jump in sales and recognition for the eventual winner.  

Both Boyden and Kinew will be interviewed by Canada Reads host Jian Ghomeshi on CBC cultural affairs show Q  on Friday morning.

Joseph Boyden

Joseph Boyden wrote The Orenda. (Penguin Group)