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Moore, Brian.

Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, c1985. 246pp, cloth, $20.95, ISBN 0-7710-6449-7. CIP

Reviewed by Barbara J. Graham

Volume 13 Number 6
1985 November

It is in the imaginative re-enactment of another time and place (1635 and the savage wilderness beyond New France) that the well-known novelist Brian Moore encaptures his readers yet again in a story web woven of threads both graphically realistic and spiritually challenging. Father Laforgue is given the opportunity of his dreams, to convert the savage Indians to Christianity, when Champlain agrees to send him to Father Jerome who is ill at the Huron mission, Ihonatiria. Accompanied by Daniel, his Norman protegé, and Algonkian guides who have been persuaded with gifts of muskets, Laforgue sets out into "the heart of darkness."

Non-judgmentally, Moore dramatically illustrates the clash of cultures as the voyage quickly becomes one of both physical and spiritual survival. Laforgue tries to assimilate as he knows he must, but he finds the noise, the smells of unwashed bodies, the idea of community property, the food, and the sexual promiscuity hard to accept. The "Savages" on the other hand, who live for the present, enjoy the sensual, and respect the living presence of natural spirits, find the French equally difficult to understand, and substantially inferior. The Jesuit Black Robes with their peculiar absorption with preparation for death and an unknown paradise are objects of friendly and not-so-friendly ridicule.

Laforgue suffers as he tries to eliminate thoughts of his innocent devotion to God in Normandy, an almost idyllic past, at least in his memories. He suffers as he tries to keep up with the physical pace of his Indian guides, while worrying about an ear infection that may leave him deaf. Daniel, his charge, is sexually involved with an Algonkian girl, and Laforgue himself has sinned in the eyes of God by masturbating while the two young people copulate. However, Laforgue soon has other troubles: the guides wish to leave him before they have portaged to the top of the Grand Rapids (winter is coming quickly); Daniel wishes to marry the Algonkian girl; the girl, her family, Daniel, and Laforgue are cruelly and graphically tortured by a band of Iroquois; and finally he arrives at the Huron mission to find further death and destruction. The reader leaves Laforgue alone at the mission professing his love for the "Savages," some of whom he is baptizing for dubious religious reasons.

The novel is strong stuff. The slangy obscenities of the "Savages," the explicit sexual scenes, and the graphic torture with cannabalism will bother some readers. Yet, these add the necessary detail that allows the reader to participate in the emotional outcome with at least some perception of why events and characters have proceeded as they have. And what does Brian Moore say? He hopes his«ovel will show that each of these beliefs inspired in the other fear, hostility, and despair, which later would result in the destruction and abandonment of the Jesuit missions and the conquest of the Huron people by the Iroquois, their deadly enemy.

Barbara J. Graham, London Board of Education, London, Ont.
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