The Orenda by Joseph Boyden

4/5 stars.
Read from July 21 to September 05, 2014.
Paperback, 512 pages.

I saved this book for last as it is the winner of this years Canada Reads series and I also took my time reading it and that’s for a good reason. As a Canadian, you get inundated with the history of the natives that first lived here and the influences that the Europeans had on the local tribes, so as a reader, it is isn’t a topic that I’m really overly interested in anymore. However, when I first picked up The Orenda I wasn’t sure what to expect as I had never read anything by Boyden but after reading the first chapter I was surprised. This book is different. The chapter opening is intriguing and spiritual, yet initially vague on character details which makes you want to read further to get a better understanding. From there, the book opens up to a world that is described like none other. So I took my sweet time with this book to revel on every detail.  Not only has Boyden been able to write a relevant historical-fiction Canadian natives, he is really good at it.

This book is narrated from three very unique perspectives: Bird, a Huron warrior; Snow Falls, a young Iroquois girl whose family was killed by Bird; and Christophe, a French missionary who has come to Canada to spread the word of God to the natives.  The orenda, is what the Huron call the life-force of all things, not just of humans and it what connects everything to each other and perhaps what brings the main characters stories together.  Each of these characters are from different cultures and have different perspectives but they are all intertwined in one land and will be immersed in the same war.

Bird is a proud warrior stilling mourning the brutal death of his wife and daughter at the hands of the Iroquois, a tribe similar to his own that they are enemies with. He encounters Snow Falls and slaughters her family, yet spares her with the intent of making her is adopted daughter. Snow Falls is peculiar but unique and understandably starts off loathing Bird and she goes out of her way to pester and aggravate him. This is how she ends up being one of Christophe’s first converts. Christophe is one of first missionaries to this area and after a begrudging agreement he allowed to come along with Bird and his tribe. Christophe is determined to save the natives and show them the ways of the Lord, and while he is a legitimately kind, intelligent and compassionate man, Christophe cannot fathom any spiritual way of living besides Christianity. He does however, learn their language and come to appreciate the people. After a deal is made with the Hurons and the Jesuits, more missionaries are allowed to mingle but with them they bring the unfortunate spread of disease and furthering the tensions between the Huron and the Iroquois tribes.

Boyden gracefully intertwines the brutality and violence of war and torture with the spiritual and meditative traditions of the native tribes, a history not so easily described.. Throughout their differences and through the violence each of the characters grows and connects. The narrative is so engaging that you feel like a shadow that follows each of these characters footsteps through the snow and their suffering.

A must read for any Canadian and historical-fiction lovers.

Annabel by Kathleen Winter

4/5 stars.
ebook, 480 pages.
Read from June 12 to 21, 2014.

I’m literally one book away from finishing all the Canada-Reads nominations of 2014. I am impressed with the diverse content between all of the books up unto this point, however, Annabel has had the most beautiful plot so far.

Jacinta Blake gives birth to an inter-sexed child in a small village in Labrador, Canada in 1968. While her husband, Treadway is out trapping as usually does for most of the year, Jacinta’s friend Thomasina is the only other person present. While Jacinta and Thomasina want to let the child live as it has been naturally born, when Treadway comes home he decides that the child will be raised as a boy. They name him Wayne.

Jacinta struggles with decision and reluctantly takes Wayne into the hospital as baby to have surgery in order to make him a boy. This is also followed by massive concoction of hormones that he will have to continue to take for his entire life

Thomasina lost her husband and daughter, Annabel, while they were out on a canoe trip and comes to secretly call Wayne by the name Annabel when just the two of them are together.

The story progress through some heart-retching scenes as Wayne grows up. At one point he is hospitalized because he is menstruating, but because he had surgery as a baby there is no where for this menstrual blood to go, causing immense pain and discomfort for Wayne.

Out of all the characters, it’s Wayne who holds the most grace with his situation. He doesn’t learn what he is until he is a teenager but he lives a somewhat normal childhood. His parents were however racked with questions, fears and frustration that they are often unsure how to deal with. Each of them feeling isolated with the knowledge of what Wayne is. It’s ultimately Wayne’s brave decision that relieves and brings the family together again.

Inter-sexed people are more common then most people recognize and it’s a hard concept for some to accept. We grow up with the belief that we are either male or female, but the idea of someone being or both is foreign to many of us. The story of Wayne could be about any inter-sexed child and their family and for some, without a story like Annabel, would not have a basic understanding of what an inter-sexed person has to go through.

Annabel is a testament to great Canadian fiction and brings an in-depth perspective of growing up inter-sexed.

The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

4/5 stars.
ebook, 449 pages.
Read from April 20 to May 02, 2014.

Three down and two more to go for the Canada-Reads nominations of 2014. At this point, I would have to say that this novel is my favorite out of what I’ve read thus far. While I admit I am already partial to Atwood as an author just because I’ve read more by her, I would still say that this one worked best for me as a reader.

The Year of the Flood is the second book in the MaddAddam trilogy. While this book is the second in the trilogy, it is technically a prequel or rather a companion piece to Oryx and Crake, the first novel in the series. The third book is called MaddAddam which takes place after these two books. While it is not necessary to read them in order if you are going to take up the novels I would recommend doing so as you’ll experience a whole different  level of plot depth.

The novel follows two main characters, Toby and Ren that are connected through a religious group called The God’s Gardeners. The women are separated by at least a decade of age between them yet they are invariably connected. The  God’s Gardeners anticipates the coming of a waterless-flood that is going to come and wipe out the human race so that the Earth can heal and rebuild from the destruction and unbalance that humans have caused it. The book moves through different areas of Ren and Toby’s lives in different time-frames, including what happened to them before they came apart of The God’s Gardeners, their time in The God’s Gardeners and where they are after the waterless-flood has hit the Earth.

The Gardener’s believe that humankind has strayed away from how God wanted us to live on the Earth. Especially with the way the world has become. Corporations, called the CorpSeCorps, now rule everything and are less than moral.  They have used up almost all of the Earth’s resources and have erased most of the animal species on the planet. The animal genes that remain are spliced and used to create horrible hybrids that serve human purposes. Food is highly processed and people have stopped asking where it comes from. The most notorious example of this is the burger chain, Secretburger. They will use any protein that they come across to use in their burgers. Even human protein. Hence, the name of the establishment, as you don’t ever really know what you’re eating. As a result, The God’s Gardeners choose to separate themselves and live in the pleeblands, the slums. The pleeblands and are inhabited by some very desolate people: homeless, refugees and criminals which make living there very dangerous. The God’s Gardeners are strict vegans and condemn anything material made. They recycle everything, grow their own food and teach their children how to live in one with God. The children take courses and learn essentials skills in classes taught the leaders of the groups, the Adams and Eves.

The book focuses on Toby and Ren in this very detailed and expansive world that Atwood has created. Like the Earth, both Toby and Ren have to heal from items that they have suffered in their past and they find this peace when the book concludes. The writing is at times chaotic, though I wouldn’t say that it’s hard to follow, so it perfectly mirrors the chaos in the plot.

There is a scary sense of realism that comes while reading this book. I found myself looking at the teachings of The God’s Gardener’s and wondering if I should take some of their own practices into my own life because the world that Atwood has created feels like it could be a possibility for our future. An excessive one maybe, but humans are an excessive race so I wouldn’t put this story too far past the concept of reality. With that being said, another point that I believe that Atwood makes, is that there is always hope and resilience, no matter what the horror.

Overall, a must-read for dystopian and Atwood lovers.