Let me start my review by saying that this book is amazing. But at the same time I have to issue a trigger warning, because this novel contains a fair amount of torture scenes and sexual violence (I will come back to this further on in my review).
The Orenda tells the story of a Huron-Wendat warrior called BIrd, who adopts a girl from the feuding Iroquis tribe after he has killed her parents. At the same time a Jesuit priest is allowed to stay with Birds people, trying to convert the native people to Christianity.
The story is told through the perspective of these three different characters over a course of three or four years in the middle of the 17th century. We follow the everyday life of these first nation canadians and their struggle to cope with the growing influence of the Europeans on the one hand and the increasing tension between their own tribe and the feuding tribe of the Iroquois on the other hand.
The novel is devided into three parts, the first two parts being rather slow in its pace. Boyden gives the reader a lot of time to grow accustomed to the everyday lives of the natives, their believes and traditions. I enjoyed reading about the respect that they have for nature and for the spiritual world and how they perceive the notion of family in their culture. The stark contrast to this world is the Jesuit priest Christophe, who just can´t fathom that these people live the way they do and desperately tries to change them. The third part takes up considerably in speed and is actionpacked and I have been totally enamoured by everything that has been happening, just because I felt a deep connection with the characters.
I loved all the main characters. Everyone had a distinct voice and the relationsships between them and the changes, that these relationships go through, are exceptionally well developed. I enjoyed it, when the character were allowed to give their thoughts on certain events and how this illustrated their perception of things. I found Christophes point of view particularly interesting, because he thinks the way that we do to a certain extent.
As for the violence: yes, it is there and some chapters are pretty gruesome to read. But I think it´s necesarry that this has been included in the novel, because torture has been a vital part of the culture of the native people. Omitting it just wouldn´t have felt right in my opinion.
The Orenda is wonderfully written, heartbreaking, devasting and simply amazing. I can highly recommend this book and I´m finishing my review with my favorite quote:
I say that humans are the only ones in this world that need everything within it. [...] But there is nothing in this world that needs us for its survival. We aren´t the master of the earth. We´re the servants.