BLACK ROBE was inspired by actual accounts of Jesuit priests working among the North American Indians in the 1600’s. The story’s central figure is Father Laforgue, who is chosen to replace an ailing priest heading a mission in a remote Indian village. Laforgue sets forth on a river journey in the company of an Algonkin tribe traveling to its winter hunting grounds. His assistant, Daniel, is young French boy who has volunteered to accompany the priest in order to remain near Annuka, the Indian girl he secretly loves. Unbeknown to Laforgue, Daniel plans to leave the priest and remain among the Indians when the two part company. As a dismayed Laforgue sees his young change rapidly adopting the customs of the Algonkin, his own safety is threatened when the tribal chief dreams that the priest’s presence is a danger to his people.
Although Laforgue and his journey provide the central thread for the novel’s narrative structure, Moore balances its point of view between the Jesuits, who refer to the Indians as “the Savages,” a term that accurately describes the French view of tribal life, and the Algonkin themselves, who regard the Jesuits, or “Black-robes,” as unnatural witches, ignorant of the powerful spirits which the Indians see at work in the natural world. This shifting perspective extends to the characters themselves, permitting glimpses into the thoughts and feelings of several of the novel’s major figures as well as insights into their perceptions of one another.
If the book is, on its surface, the story of a physical trek--one that will encompass deprivation, torture, courage, betrayal, and death before its close--it is also a spiritual journey as well. Several of Moore’s earlier books, including CATHOLICS and COLD HEAVEN, have taken Catholicism as a central theme, and in Father Laforgue the author presents a man whose faith is shaken by his experiences in a society radically different from his own. BLACK ROBE combines cultural and historical observations, carefully drawn characters, and an absorbing story line in a challenging examination of the introduction of Christianity to the New World.
Carrol, James. Review in The New York Times Book Review. XC (March 31, 1985), p. 7.
Hawley, John C. Review in America. CLII (May 4, 1985), p. 376.
Ingoldby, Grace. Review in New Statesman. CIX (June 14, 1985), p. 33.
Kelley, M. T. Review in Books in Canada. XIV (June, 1985), p. 33.