I awake. A few minutes, maybe, of troubled sleep. My teeth chatter so violently I can taste I’ve bitten my swollen tongue. Spitting red into the snow, I try to rise but my body’s seized. The oldest Huron, their leader, who kept us walking all night around the big lake rather than across it because of some ridiculous dream, stands above me with a thorn club. The weight of these men give their dreams will be the end of them.
Although I still know little of their language, I understand the words he whispers and force myself to roll over when the club swings towards me. The thorns bite into my back and the bile of curses that pour from my mouth make the Hurons convulse with laughter. I am sorry, Lord, to use Your name in vain.
This is plight of a Jesuit priest in the opening scene of Joseph Boyden’s newest novel, The Orenda. It is an ancient story, but it is now told with fresh insight and, happily, a new perspective. History is rough and raw and this story is no exception. The story revolves around a kidnapped princess, a Jesuit missionary and an elder in the Huron nation. Their worlds collide but Boyden keeps the emotions raw as he steers us into the truth.
It is 1919, and Niska, the last Oji-Cree medicine woman to live off the land, has received word that one of the two boys she grudgingly saw off to war has returned. She leaves her home in the bush of Northern Ontario to retrieve him, only to discover that the one she expected is actually the other.
Xavier Bird, her sole living relation, gravely wounded and addicted to the army’s morphine, hovers somewhere between the living world and that of the dead. As Niska paddles him the three days home, she realizes that all she can offer in her attempt to keep him alive is her words, the stories of her life.
In turn, Xavier relates the horrifying years of war in Europe: he and his best friend, Elijah Whiskeyjack, prowled the battlefields of France and Belgium as snipers of enormous skill. As their reputations grew, the two young men, with their hand-sewn moccasins and extraordinary marksmanship, became both the pride and fear of their regiment as they stalked the ripe killing fields of Ypres and the Somme.
But what happened to Elijah? As Niska paddles deeper into the wilderness, both she and Xavier confront the devastation that such great conflict leaves in its wake.
Inspired in part by real-life World War I Ojibwa hero Francis Pegahmagabow, Three Day Road reinvents the tradition of such Great War epics as Birdsong and All Quiet on the Western Front. Beautifully written and told with unblinking focus, it is a remarkable tale, one of brutality, survival, and rebirth. Taken from Joseph Boyden web site.
More books by Joseph Boyden: Through Black Spruce, Born with a Tooth.
Quill and Quire Review