New novel by retired education professor Johnston explores the competing claims of love, commerce and religion in 17th-century Canada.
This work of historical fiction mines its author’s longstanding interest in Native American history and culture in order to craft an account of the early days of European settlement in Canada. The narrative follows Remy Moisson, a young Frenchman who has abandoned a promising Jesuit education to seek his fortune overseas. Through Remy’s actions and journal entries, the reader gains an insightful picture of a representative young man’s intellectual and personal development as he encounters the differing perspectives of his European peers and the peoples of the New World. Most important is his experience of falling in love with Tika, a young Wendat woman, who also serves as a liaison between the local Jesuit missionary and her tribe. As the novel unfolds, this romance not only places both Remy and Tika in grave danger, but also forces each to confront the other’s traditional practices and beliefs. This theme of cultural friction is not limited to the story of the star-crossed lovers. Johnston skillfully depicts the competing perspectives of commercial explorers and missionaries, showing validity in each, even as both are subtly critiqued. Among the strongest passages in the novel are the fictional letters exchanged between Jesuit priests on far-flung missions. Johnston adeptly conveys these characters’ fears and aspirations while also giving a convincing sense of their frame of reference. Although some readers may wish that Johnston had drawn the protagonist with equal subtlety, Remy in fact fits into a long tradition of upstanding adventure heroes, such as Jim Hawkins or D’Artagnan, upon whom a wide range of readers can project their own personalities. In any event, the complex character of Tika, caught between love and tradition, provides an insightful point of contrast. Though the generally brisk narrative sometimes drags, readers will nonetheless find themselves enriched by the various bits of historical information Johnston has succeeded in weaving into his story.
An entertaining, informative account of the beginnings of European settlement in North America.