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This Widowed Land Mass Market Paperback – October 3, 2006
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Father Marc Dupre is a French missionary who has come to Quebec to preach Christianity. He is not prepared for his own growing love for Andiora, an attraction she shares with all her heart.
But more than a forbidden union threatens them both. A mysterious epidemic is devastating the Hurons, and vengeful shamans blame the "Black Robes" from Europe, crying out for the priests' deaths.
Menaced by war and disease, torn between their desires and their sacred callings, Marc and Andiora struggle to find peace and fulfillment.
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Of the five or six novels written by the Gears that I have read this one is the first that I thought had an "agenda." Spiritualism (see my other reviews) was endemic to the Native American Culture and I don't have a problem with historical fiction portraying individuals as motivated by those views. It was important to them in their time and place and realism would require that the characters reflect those spiritual dimensions. I did not overly object in the previous books I read when the Gears portrayed the spirits as not only existing but essentially defining the narrative flow. I have no doubt that the Native Americans had real spiritual experiences in which, whether delusional or not, they interacted with spiritual beings. In the same way that I accepted "magic" in the Harry Potter series, I accepted spiritualism here.
In this novel, Kathleen Gear goes beyond this general narrative structure and embarks upon an implicit campaign to essentially reduce all spirituality to a common identity. It is more than "all religions lead to the same God." It is essentially "all religions are the same religion in different packages." I appreciated Gear's research into the apocalyptic dimensions of the European views on the New World and particularly the Native Americans as the lost tribes of Israel. I also was delighted with her development of the tension Jesuit Missionaries experienced in trying to bridge the cultural gap with the different cultures they encountered (all over the world). Her mention of the controversy that developed over the missionaries in China adopting Chinese garb and even minimizing the Trinity so as to make the doctrines of the Church accessible to that culture was well done.
But given that good beginning, Gear moves on to identifying the spiritual beings in the Huron cosmology with the Triune God. That the general teachings and character of Jesus is so far removed from the spirit who not only tolerated torture of prisoners but accepted the cannibalism that accompanied it, seemed not to bother her at all. For Gear, the fact that both Christians and Native Americans have spiritual "experiences" which have basic things in common, appears to be enough to render them as essentially the same.
If Gear had left it to where the individuals had basically interpreted their experiences along these lines, then the story would have been rooted in the human condition and the human framework in which these things were understood. That would have been OK. But she seemed intent on validating these ideas by the actual interaction of the spiritual beings with the humans, even to the point where the Native American "spirits" rescue both a Christian and Native American and thereby validates both their "faiths". She further has a re-enactment of the "self-sacrifice" of the Cross in a similar situation.
All together there is too much of it not to be understood as making a point, so much so, that it actually detracts from her otherwise superb story-telling.