Sylvain Tesson Forest Siberia Critique Essay

“…wry, exuberant and a perfect balm for anyone who dreams of running away to the middle of nowhere.” ~San Francisco Chronicle

"One of the best fall travel books" ~National Geographic

"[One of] the best books of the year." ~Financial Times

“Like vodka thrown into a burning wood stove, this book blazes dangerously, beautifully, illuminating its subjects with mischievous flames of lyricism and wit. Brilliant and unforgettable.” ~David George Haskell, Professor of Biology at The University of the South, author of The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch In Nature, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize

"This book is to be savored word by word. It is the diary of a man who spent six months by himself in a cabin on a Siberian lake. It contains beautiful and very evocative descriptions on the landscape, on solitude, on life, and on his numerous readings." ~Words and Peace

Holiday Catalog/Staff Pick: If you fantasize regularly about moving alone to a cabin in the middle of nowhere, Consolations of the Forest might just be for you. Light-footed, insightful, diversionary, wry and delightfully unpretentious (no transcendentalism here), Tesson’s book is the document of a vodka-fueled six-month solitude binge on the frozen edge of the deepest lake in the world." ~Booksmith

"Consolations of the forest [is] an extraordinary book…Tesson’s literary gymnastics and personal eccentricities aside, Consolations of the Forest is also a paean to the vastness of Siberia and a way of life that, surely against the odds, still survives. It is a page-turner but one in the which the words themselves pull us from page to page until, like Tesson, we come to the end and must finally return to a more quotidian existence.” ~Asian Review of Books
“Sylvain Tesson ventures where Thoreau only talked about—into the wilderness of nature and solitude. He writes with the lyrical cynicism of a Raymond Chandler about nature, kitsch, violence, herd behavior, and the glory of paying attention. Equipped with books, cigars, and vodka, plus a good knife and solar panels, Tesson takes time to look real life in the eye, and—in prose of startling clarity and candor—makes a spiritual quest both suspenseful and funny. ‘I will finally find out,’ he writes early on in his diary, ‘if I have an inner life.’ He does.” ~Michael Sims, author of The Story of Charlotte’s Web and the upcoming Adventures of Henry Thoreau

..the pleasures of the few neighbors Tesson has — and the company of two puppies — enliven the narrative. It’s almost enough to make the reader want to spend six months in isolation. Almost." ~Vol. 1 Brooklyn

“With The Consolations of the Forest, Tesson adds a modern voice to the rich literary history of contemplative nature writers like Thoreau and Emerson.” ~ForeWord Reviews
“This book is to be savored work by word. I totally fell under the charm of its writing…I wanted to read and reread some passages, and that’s why I took time to write down quotations. I have not done so to that extent for a long time, proof that this book is really amazingly beautiful…the author has a knack for seeing the beauty everywhere around him…something new and very refreshing.” ~Words and Peace

"A French journalist’s eloquently philosophical diary of the six months he spent fulfilling his dream to “live as a hermit deep in the woods” of Siberia. The deeper he probed his own mind and heart, the more aware he became of himself as just another animal, like the wolves and bears with whom he shared the landscape. Comparisons to Walden are inevitable and, to an extent, justified. Yet what makes Tesson’s work so refreshing is its freedom from Thoreau-vian moralizing. Solitude may be necessary and healing; but living life as a fully realized human being with attachments to society is an art rather than a thing to be despised. Moving, wise and profound." ~Kirkus Reviews

"Tongue in cheek? Perhaps. Yet, for all his playfulness, Mr Tesson is in earnest. He loves the taiga and understands the Russians’ almost mystical attachment to it. Move over Schopenhauer. Aika and Bek know where the “sweet spot” is—the present moment, that special place “between longing and regret” that Mr Tesson is ultimately in search of."

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The Consolations of the Forest

Alone in a Cabin on the Siberian Taiga

Sylvain Tesson
Linda Coverdale (Translator)
Rizzoli (Sep 17, 2013)
Hardcover$24.95 (256pp)

Contrasts between solitude and companionship acquaint readers with the rich relationship between humans, their environment, and their selves.

For an intentional hermit, wilderness trekker Sylvain Tesson has a surprising amount of company during his six-month retreat in Siberia. Though he deliberately exiles himself to a remote one-room cabin for solitary contemplation, he ends up developing new relationships with his environment, its animals, and its human population as well. In The Consolations of the Forest: Alone in a Cabin on the Siberian Taiga, Tesson shares the detailed journal of his days in what should be the bleakest corner of the planet, but which turns out to be a rich and varied experience.

Winner of the Prix Medicis for nonfiction in his native France, this English translation of Tesson’s Dans les Forets de Siberie gives the prolific travel writer an expanded audience. Readers from across the globe are invited to join the intrepid traveler as he ventures into the subarctic realms with only his books, his vodka, and a sustaining supply of pasta and Tabasco sauce. On the shores of Lake Baikal, he sets out to conquer an ambitious reading list that includes Nietzsche, Sade, Camus, and Shakespeare. After all, he has six months to fill.

The time fills more quickly than either Tesson or his readers expect. First, there are the basics of survival. (As the Zen proverb says, “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”) Then, there are the visitors. The daily conversation with a titmouse at the windowsill and the constant lookout for bears occupy many hours. So, too, do the surprisingly frequent visits from Tesson’s Russian counterparts, who live in the forest to safeguard the wildlife against the threat of poachers. Tesson never knows when a “neighbor” from seventy-five miles away will crash through his door. Sausages and seal meat are slung on the table, vodka is passed around, and raucous conversation flies across the room at top speed and volume. And then, just as suddenly as they appear, the visitors take off. It’s contrasts like these, between solitude and companionship, that make Tesson’s story fascinating.

Tesson’s writing is most evocative when he concentrates on the tangible details of his days—his trek “over sheets of lunar ice that resemble huge jellyfish veined with turquoise,” for example. These passages create vivid images in the reader’s mind, although Tesson occasionally gets carried away by the metaphorical possibilities, as when he imagines “the melancholy of forests, the joy of mountain torrents, the hesitation of bogs, the strict severity of peaks, the aristocratic frivolity of lapping waves.”

With The Consolations of the Forest, Tesson adds a modern voice to the rich literary history of contemplative nature writers like Thoreau and Emerson. Tesson reaches few conclusions, but rather asks readers to accompany him as he explores the question of people’s relationship to nature and each other.

Reviewed by Sheila M. Trask

Disclosure: This article is not an endorsement, but a review. The author of this book provided free copies of the book to have their book reviewed by a professional reviewer. No fee was paid by the author for this review. Foreword Reviews only recommends books that we love. Foreword Magazine, Inc. is disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

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