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The Orenda

A Novel
Written by: Joseph Boyden
Length: 17 hrs and 37 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (128 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

History reveals itself when, in the 17th century, a Jesuit missionary ventures into the Canadian wilderness in search of converts - the defining moment of first contact between radically different worlds. What unfolds over the next several years is truly epic, constantly illuminating and surprising, sometimes comic, always entrancing, and ultimately all too human in its tragic grandeur.

Christophe has been in the New World only a year when his native guides abandon him to flee their Iroquois pursuers. A Huron warrior and elder named Bird soon takes him prisoner, along with a young Iroquois girl, Snow Falls, whose family he has just killed, and holds them captive in his massive village. Champlain's Iron People have only recently begun trading with the Huron, who mistrust them as well as this Crow who has now trespassed on to their land; and her people, of course, have become the Huron's greatest enemy. Putting both to death would resolve the issue, but Bird sees Christophe as a potential envoy to those in New France, and Snow Falls as a replacement for his two daughters who were murdered by the Iroquois.

The relationships between these three are reshaped again and again as life comes at them relentlessly: A dangerous trading mission, friendly exchanges with allied tribes, shocking victories and defeats in battle, and sicknesses the likes of which no one has ever witnessed.

The Orenda traces a story of blood and hope, suspicion and trust, hatred and love, that comes to a head when Jesuit and Huron join together against the stupendous wrath of the Iroquois, when everything that any of them has ever known or believed faces nothing less than annihilation. A saga nearly 400 years old, it is also timeless and eternal.

©2013 Joseph Boyden (P)2014 Recorded Books

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Excellent, and enlightening

This book made me respect first Nations more, feel more for what happened to them, but it wasn't done in a judgmental way, it was subtle, lets you roll your eyes, and shake your head at the European ignorance, and arrogance, rather than shove it down your throat.
I've read critical reviews from native people, all I can say is it gave me a great fondness for their ancestors, and a renewed anger at my own European ancestors.
great book.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

Graphic violence and annoyingly simplistic natives

I wanted to enjoy this book, but I found it really problematic. Firstly, it's written by an author whose claims to native heritage appear to be very debated, and I do not enjoy reading fiction that writes aboriginal characters in such simple language and short sentences that it portrays them as simplistic. Attempting to portray a different way of thought, sure. 500 pages of referring to Europeans as "the hairy ones"? Painful. I can't claim any native heritage or deep knowledge of aboriginal culture personally, but I'm pretty sure it's possible to write full sentences and express sophisticated thought processes while still being true to native beliefs. "I lay my children down on their furs. 'Show me,' I say." etc etc ... I found it patronizing that the native characters are written in such abbreviated, simple sentences.

It's also basically torture porn. All about the conflicts between the French, the Huron, and the Iroquois; the book is just filled with graphic to the point of extremely disturbing depictions of brutal torture, but all of it performed by the native tribes. There is one brief sentence where the French missionary "Crow" reflects that the Christian inquisitions have performed similar atrocities, but that thought is immediately passed by and never raised again in the entire book filled with graphic torture. The repeated treatment of native tortures and the "bravery" of the warriors who refuse to cry out while they are tortured (in great detail, sometimes from first person perspective) seems to be held out as a virtue in the end. The ability of various characters to undergo excruciating torture for days without "breaking" seems to be presented as winning of virtue in the end.

There are three main characters, Snow Falls (whose parents and siblings are brutally tortured and murdered in front of her) who is adopted by Bird (whose spouse and children were brutally tortured and murdered by Snow Falls' tribe), and the missionary Crow (whose fellow missionaries, and eventually himself also, are variously tortured by Iroquois to various degrees). None of them become likeable to any degree. None of them appear to have much sense of humour. Only Crow seems to be allowed to use any degree of sophisticated language and thought.

So yeah. Do you enjoy wooden characters where the aboriginal characters are portrayed as unsophisticated and lacking depth of expression? Do you enjoy reading pages and pages of graphic description of people being flayed alive, boiled alive, burned alive, brutalized in various ways, blinded, castrated, and otherwise maimed? Do you believe the ability to put on a macho front and withstand such torture is laudable? Then hey, you'll probably love this book. Me, I'm going to pass on any other books by this author.

5 of 7 people found this review helpful

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compelling!

An epic story of the convergence of Jesuit contact with warring First Nations communities, and the onset of their worlds colliding. Heartbreakingly it identifies the monumental struggles of each people group trying appreciate the other, and the consequent issues of clashing worldviews. Heartbreaking, yet some how hopeful.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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thoroughly enjoyable

An immensely moving listen that I would thoroughly recommend to all. Made a very long train ride seem very short.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Raw and intense!

It took me awhile to warm up to the narration and path the story was going, that is why I will listen to the beginning once more. As the story progressed I was finally hooked at some of the hilarity of how the Huronians perceived the Jesuits. The description of the Iroquois and the Huronians battling it out with one another was so graphic and intensely cruel, be warned it is not for the faint of heart. All in all I really enjoyed it.

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    4 out of 5 stars
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Canadian history told through 3 people

I liked the story and its intertwined references to Canada's history.
I did role my eyes more than once and mock the Over... Dramatic... Reading...

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Beautifully written historical novel!

It took me a little while to get into this book by I soon became captivated by the realistic characters. It was fascinating to have the story told through the viewpoint of the 3 main characters.
Some of the reviews say the book is very violent. From my perspective the violence needs to be a part of the story. But it is only part of it. There is also a lot of love, joy and many other emotions that we all feel at different times in our lives.
This book gave me a new perspectives on the interaction between native Canadians and Europeans. Highly recommended!!!

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A window into 3 souls in a different era

A fiction which brings us closer to the lived experiences of others. Excellent writing and voices

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars

a sad chapter

A fascinating but tragic period in history. I couldn't finish it. Too much torturing, although it exhibited extensive research and a genuine effort to be sympatheric. It's worthwhile to read the history of this period.

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    4 out of 5 stars

Excellent narration

I had read the book previously. However, the narration added more to each character. I liked how there are different narrators for the three characters.

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • David
  • 2014-06-15

Thoughtful and interesting, if not always gripping

I've read a few novels on the subject of the interactions between the French missionaries and the First Nations in North America during the 17th century, and this one is essential reading if you're interested in the subject. Boyden has clearly set out to immerse himself in both cultures and to try to give each an equal amount of respect. The missionaries are naive and arrogant but are also brave and have integrity in their spiritual beliefs. The native belief system and way of life is made fully comprehensible and possible for the reader to identify with yet Boyden doesn't sentimentalize the First Nations into New Age hippies - he pulls no punches in depicting their culture as patriarchal and militaristic. It's an amazing depiction of two worlds that feel intensely real and are trying to understand each other. And the plot never goes in the directions that you think it will.

I should also warn listeners of a sensitive disposition that the novel contains numerous detailed and intensely disturbing descriptions of the long, drawn-out tortures of prisoners that dominated the wars between the Huron and the Iroquois. It is the stuff of nightmares and while it's essential to the plot and themes, many listeners will find it hard to deal with.

Although I found the novel fascinating on an intellectual level, the characters and story sometimes left me cold and felt a little flat. The main problem is that although the two cultures are presented with superb complexity, the three protagonists are excessively good-hearted and admirable, to the extent that they feel rather cardboard when compared with the minor characters. This problem is exacerbated by the three readers, who are all competent but never exciting. This makes parts of the novel drag.

Overall though, this is essential reading for anyone with a strong stomach and an interest in the subject.

10 of 10 people found this review helpful

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  • Mary
  • 2014-07-13

Excellent, but very explicitly violent

Any additional comments?

I learned a lot listening to this book. It gave me a better understanding of this period of history in eastern Canada, and also helped me appreciate the Huron's deep connection to the natural world. The book is VERY explicitly violent, which I did not like, but the culture of the Iroquois and Hurons was very violent and the book just presents that reality. The author does a great job of character development. Naration is excellent.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Tony
  • 2014-11-09

One of the BEST books I've listened to so far!

This story will capture you from it's very beginning and will hold you fascinated until the very end. Not only is it very entertaining but also enlightening. This book is a must read for all even though it is very violent and disturbing.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Amelia
  • 2015-04-03

Fantastic. Unbelievable.

Absolutely worth it. Harrowing, but beautifully narrated and a terrifying picture of early canada. A must read for anyone curious about early Canadian history and the relationship between the native Canadians and the Jesuit priests who landed there.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Dashiel Vonnegut
  • 2015-03-23

A great realization of history but...

Is there anything you would change about this book?

I couldn't believe that people who lived to together in such a raw and intimate environment would be able to maintain the lack of understanding shown by both sides. The descriptions of violence fit the time and place, but overwhelmed the arc of the characters. The "tragedies" of the book where inevitable, but no one seemed to learn anything of value from them.

Would you be willing to try another book from Joseph Boyden? Why or why not?

Probably. He writes well and his main characters are accessible and developed. I think it was a great effort but missed the most captivating opportunity.

Which scene was your favorite?

Snow Fall's vengeful attack on Bird, while he slept ended with a wonderfully conceived consequence, and a powerful intertwining of their fates. Gosling's many applications of "magic" were also well thought out.

Could you see The Orenda being made into a movie or a TV series? Who should the stars be?

Not network. Perhaps a good director on a premium cable network could do it justice.

Any additional comments?

I'm fascinated by the world of the Iroquois and Huron. I'm eager to find good literature that "lives" with them before the appearance of the European blight.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Lisa
  • 2014-05-31

indigenous spirituality meeting western history

If you could sum up The Orenda in three words, what would they be?

Ceremonial real-life exposed.

Who was your favorite character and why?

The Huron leader's trusted friend is loyal and courageous, undaunted, a warrior.

What about the narrators’s performance did you like?

The voices of the three main characters are extremely well differentiated.

Who was the most memorable character of The Orenda and why?

The jesuit priest is so dogged in his missionary work, so disrespectful of the orenda, and his death is correspondingly marked with the respectfulness of his "sauvages".

Any additional comments?

Joseph Boyden brings to life that time in history (around the 16th century).

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Tristan
  • 2017-09-13

Gripping in its realism

Immersed in the world of colonialism and Huron-Iroquois warfare, the Orenda is vivid and intense in its telling of three paralel stories, offering rich point of views on all sides. Boyden is uncompromising when describing this at times violent and unforgiving period, while maintaining an immaculate sense of historical context. Not a light novel, it's simply fantastic in its realism as it immerses you in the great lakes region of the 16th century.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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  • C
  • 2014-11-08

Torture to listen to

I dreaded listening to this book and admit that I gave up about halfway through. It is simply depressing and filled with graphic depictions of tortures, murders and general bad interpersonal relationships.

5 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • Patricia Filteau
  • 2015-01-30

Outstanding!

Thank you Joseph Boyden for reading The Orenda yourself. You gave voice to the words that breathed life to your story that I could reach out and connect to -

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Ana
  • 2018-01-05

Depressing and flaky history.

Ending was slapped together and tried to wrap too much up too soon. Not all the characters were well matched to voice actors. I felt like it didn't give me much if any new insight into First Nations life and honestly felt a bit made up.