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WINNER OF THE LIBRIS AWARD — FICTION BOOK OF THE YEAR
In the wilds of seventeenth-century North America, the lives of a Jesuit missionary, a young Iroquois girl, and a great warrior and elder statesman of the Huron Nation become entwined.
The Huron have battled the Iroquois for generations, but now both tribes face a new, more dangerous threat from another land. Uneasy alliances are made and unmade, cultures and beliefs clash in the face of precipitous change, and not everyone will survive the march of history. Joseph Boyden’s magisterial novel tells this story of blood and hope, suspicion and trust, hatred and love: a saga nearly four hundred years old—and now a timeless work of literature.
They were already so wounded we knew they wouldn’t survive the trip home. Even though I asked Fox to do it, my asking is the same as if I myself had done it. Fox cut their throats with his knife so that they’d die quickly, ignoring the taunts of Sturgeon and Hawk and Deer to make it slow. When the three called Fox a woman for making the first leave so fast, he positioned the second woman, who was quite pretty, so the blood from her throat sprayed their faces. That shut them up, and despite feeling badly for these dead, I laughed.
I remember our life together in the village we have now left for good. I didn’t realize how sentimental I’ve grown over these last many seasons. I remember what it felt like to come home from a long journey, to walk into the longhouse and your arms, our girls hugging my legs. I’ve not been able to move on from you even though I know you want me to. Many gifts are given in your names. Necklaces of polished beads, furs, quill tobacco bags, moccasins, and moose-hair barrettes dyed the colour of strawberries.
I look up at her, the sunspots dancing, her face becoming focused. I think it’s beautiful, but her words, her voice, make my legs start shaking again. She raises her hand once more. They stop. “You will cause your new father much pain,” she says. “I can see this, too. ” She smiles. “He’s not my father,” I tell her. The idea that he is makes me sad and confused. Although her mouth stays the same, I see her own confusion in her eyes. “I didn’t ask you to speak, Snow Falls,” she says. I want to tell her that she isn’t my mother, either.
I nod. “But we,” Aaron says, sweeping his arm to those around him, “all of us, all of our lives, have been taught that everything has its own spirit. Everything contains the ability to live. ” I keep my gaze upon the young man until he looks down. “Do you see a tree fleeing when you approach it with an axe to cut it down? ” I ask. “Do you hear a deer beg for mercy before you shoot it with your arrow? ” An old man I’ve not yet named speaks up. “When I kill an animal, I thank its oki for allowing me to eat, to live.
I walk through the deserted village, little mounds of snow in the shadows of longhouses the only evidence of winter. When panic is about to consume me, I look up and see smoke coiling from the longhouses into the blue sky. People must be around, then, must be close. It’s too warm for my coat, so I take it off and walk to the gap at the palisades. When I squeeze through, I finally hear the noise of humans, people speaking and walking and digging through soil with their tools. All across the fields that stretch out over the rolling hills, the people of the village stand or walk on the black earth, the ground muddy and rich, heavy with the smell of spring, of past crops, of worms and seeds and the sweat of those who’ve worked it.