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Spotlight: Joseph Boyden’s new novel is an epic story of blood and butchery in early Canada

Spotlight: Joseph Boyden’s new novel is an epic story of blood and butchery in early Canada
(Image: Norman Wong)

Through a weird twist of cultural fate, Canada’s best-known native writer is a white guy from Willowdale. Joseph Boyden, who was born into a huge Catholic family with distant Métis ancestry, has spent his life bouncing between worlds. He hung out on reserves as a kid, went to punk shows as an angry teen, taught Cree students in Northern Ontario as a young man and finally ended up in New Orleans, where he wrote Three Day Road and Through Black Spruce, the novels that have made him a literary star. Boyden’s bloody and brick-thick new novel, The Orenda, is a historical epic about an idealistic missionary caught between warring tribes, hundreds of years before Confederation. (The title refers to the Iroquois belief in a pervasive, all-powerful spiritual energy; basically, the First Nations equivalent of the Force.) Full of head-bludgeoning and throat-cutting scenes set in the wilds of what is now Ontario, the novel feels like a hybrid of Pierre Berton and Cormac McCarthy: perfect for readers who like a little arterial spray with their history.

BOOKS

The Orenda by Joseph Boyden Available Sept. 10

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