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Consolations of the Forest: Alone in a Cabin in the Middle Taiga Hardcover – 30 May 2013

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Allen Lane; 1st Edition edition (30 May 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141975474
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141975474
  • Product Dimensions: 14.4 x 2.6 x 22.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 81,418 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

Written with great charm and beauty, and humour, the journal ends in late July on a high note, waiting for transport to return him to city life, and celebrating the happiness of being alive. (Sunday Times)

Why do it? To fulfil a seven-year-old dream of going to ground in a forest. To surround himself in silence. To escape ugliness, traffic and the telephone. To catch up on his reading. To see if immobility can bring the peace that travel used to. To sample an existence reduced to bare essentials. To become a hermit and find out whether he has an inner life...he comes across as the brainiest, daftest, sternest, funniest, most companionable hermit you'll ever meet. (Blake Morrison Guardian)

For anyone who secretly dreams of a life that's both simpler and more physically demanding, Tesson's descriptions of bruised-looking Siberian sunsets and Baikal in the rain are a draft of cool air...He seems to belong to an earlier era of swashbuckling adventurers and public intellectuals who were out to change the world. There's humour and humanity here, but also a serious attempt to answer the question, "How should a person live?" (Guardian)

No one could accuse Tesson either of leading an impoverished existence or suffering from an inability to convey life's joys and wonders. Rich in poetry, charged with intensity, Consolations of the Forest is magnificent, pretentious, thoroughly French, a hermit's vodka-tossed praise-poem to retreat and solitude (Justin Marozzi Financial Times)

The most brilliant of our traveling writers lived for six months in the glacial isolation of a small log cabin in Siberia. 'Winter, silence and solitude will soon be worth more than gold in our overheated, noisy, overpopulated world', says Tesson, hardly a Thoreau figure sipping carrot juice, instead he guzzles vast quantities of vodka at subzero temps. This delightful memoir is a cross between Rousseau and Bear Grylls, the survivalist hero of Man Vs. Wild, filled with sarcastic yet pointed aphorisms, a sort of Walden on Smirnoff (Jérome Dupuis L'EXPRESS)

This is Man against Nature, the universe of Jack London, David Vann and Derzu Uzala, the wide-open spaces and Arctic winter. At the age of 37 Tesson went to live for six months in near-total isolation. He faces his fears with copious amounts of vodka and literature, joyfully noting the tracks of a passing fox, the flight of a bird, a lichen twisting in the wind. Beautifully written, restrained, a song of the taiga, its harmonies resonate for a long time in the mind of the reader (Dominique Fernandez)

After nearly 20 years traveling through the steppes of Central Asia, climbing everything that could be climbed, Sylvain Tesson drove out to the taiga, to a tiny log cabin. IN THE FORESTS OF SIBERIA is not just a journal recounting his experiences, it is a magnificent story, sharp, shatteringly poetic, hallucinatory, funny ... a meditation in movement, filled with his thoughts about time, space, beauty, the body, our world ... a metaphor for writing, stripping away the things which surround us, driving toward that which is essential (Christophe Ono-dit-Biot LE POINT)

Sylvain Tesson's new book is a leap into radical solitude on the shores of Lake Baikal, an ode to immobility, destitution and silence. The book shares with us the paradoxical, inestimable value of time, although nothing much happens there and almost no one comes to visit. For Tesson this quest for solitude is liberating as he rediscovers the joy of contemplation: 'I am free to do everything in a world where there is nothing to do'. A breath of fresh air for those chafing at the narrowness of their lives (Pierre Lepidi LE MONDE)

Fascinated by the extreme landscape of Siberia, its fierce, untouched nature, Tesson wanted to taste it, to live it, to share his experiences. He is accompanied only by his two puppies and the rare visitor, a hermit in a voluntary gulag, boozing his way out of introspection. He returns stronger, clearer, his karma restored, his next journey already on the horizon (Jean-Claude Perrier LIVRES HEBDO)

Dreaming, ranting, soliloquising, his style elegant and precise, Tesson gives us an ode to the beauty of the landscape, the world, the silence. He reads Nieztsche, Mishima, Camus, Hammett, Conrad, Chateaubriand, the words spilling into the harsh winter. This is an affirmation, a true journey, a negation of civilisation (Nicholas Ungemuth LE FIGARO Magazine)

After traveling the world on foot, on a bike and on horseback, Sylvain Tesson chose to slow down for a time in Siberia, giving us a poetic, droll, philosophical logbook whose main characters are time, man and nature, driven by colossal quantities of cigars, fish and vodka. The book is filled with emotion and fantasy (Laurent Banguet AFP)

Sylvain Tesson, in his cabin on the shore of Lake Baikal, writes, 'I have known winter and spring, happiness, despair, and finally - peace.' A dazzling tale of survival and silence, of simple tasks performed in the wilderness, of listening (JE BOUQUINE F.C.)

He knows how to write, this creature of the forest, this wandering explorer. Letting his images of the taiga, of Baikal creep into our own faded lives, reminding us that we must dare to look inward, to withdraw from the world (ELLE Jeanne de Ménibus)

This is Sylvain Tesson's best book: the flavour of his erudition, the richness of his references shared with us so that we too may savour them - come together with a rare authenticity. Living like a hermit in a small cabin, he is heartbroken when his girlfriend dumps him via text message. He is forced to face his own despair, his past, his voluntary exile, his fear (Bruno Bouvet LA CROIX)

We are enchanted by his reclusive life, his stories of bears and wolves, their fairytale universe, the magic of a life which becomes an 'homage by an adult to his childhood dreams.' We follow him as he learns to live in a different way (Florent Gorgesco LE MONDE DES LIVRES)

About the Author

Writer, journalist and traveller, Sylvain Tesson is France's 'most brilliant travel writer' (L'Express).After a world tour by bicycle in 1993-1994, he developed a passion for Central Asia, and in 1997 he crossed the Himalayas on foot, 5000 kilometres from Bhutan to Tajikistan.For seven months in 2003, he followed the journey of escapees from the gulag, which took him from Yakutsk in Siberia to Calcutta in India on foot and brought him to international prominence with his remarkable travelogue, Axis of Wolf.

Consolations of the Forest is his first book about staying still.

It won the Prix Medicis in 2011.


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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Ian Shine VINE VOICE on 15 Sept. 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I was drawn to this book having spent nine months living in Siberia myself, and a few weeks travelling around Lake Baikal, where Tesson spent six months writing this book. In this respect, it is hard for me to objectively say how evocative of place the book is, for while Tesson's words are delicate and precise - he talks about the "cadaverous" surface of frozen Baikal, the world's deepest freshwater lake, and of how the sunlight hits the tips of icicles, creating "stars in broad daylight" - I have a storehouse of images to draw on, and know how impossible it is to imagine the desolation, the engrossing vacuity of Siberia without having been there.

Yet while I would, subjectively at least, compliment Tesson for the images his words sketch out, and particularly for his descriptions of those winds that seem to come from nowhere to tear through your skin, I don't think it really matters whether these images are accurately reproduced in the reader's mind, for what this book is really about is solitude; about stepping away from life so you can reconsider what it is and what it means. How does a person cope living in almost utter isolation, days away from other human beings. How does it alter his or her mind-set? What becomes important?
He comes to talk of the "human gaze" as a "baptism". He looks on the forest, giving life to it, yet no-one looks on him, and it allows him a kind of re-birth.

He revels in his hermit-hood - "It's good not to have to keep a conversation going", he says - and comes to see civilizations' structures as a falsehood designed to prop up its own myth. Only when seeing the real world apart from ourselves, objectively, are we able to make it out for the sham that it is. "Societies do not like hermits and do not forgive them for their flight...
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By T. Bently VINE VOICE on 1 July 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A French travel writer goes to stay in an old geologists' cabin in Siberia next to a frozen lake and keeps a diary. I usually really enjoy this type of thing; I was hoping that it would be like an update on Thoreau. Unfortunately, the writing style is too self-conscious and concentrated, with lots of clever metaphors and references to other writers ancient and modern. I liked it at first but it becomes increasingly hard to swallow. Impressive in its way but too laboured to be truly enjoyable to read.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Zipster Zeus on 26 Dec. 2013
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This is engrossing study in solitude and the writer experiences a separation from the 'world' as well as greater insight into it's workings in a way many of us would wish to experience ourselves I strongly suspect.

The result is very personal and highly affecting; the style is more continental than Anglo-Saxon and so may not appeal to all, but I personally found it a very rewarding read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Lark TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 11 April 2015
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This is essentially a long collection of reflections and ruminations from a french author who has decided upon the life of a hermit for a couple of months before he reaches his forties, it is a narrative in the first person presented in the diary format, indeed the contents are are February through July.

I gave this four rather than five stars because while it was a good enough book to make me want to keep reading I felt it was lacking in something. It does not read like spontaneous enough a read to have been the diary jottings that someone has made, unvarnished, unrevised, unedited, of which I think some of George Orwell's war diaries, letters and essays are the best examples, which essentially tell you a lot about the author themselves and are an insight into the self, on the other hand, it is neither a sort of well researched and well rounded travelogue.

It is clear from what the author writes that they could have been thinking of each account while composing this one, the journey they took and life of their choosing for the months within the book is not without preparation and a lot of thought, its not a tragic tale like Into The Wild, of someone with a facile back to the land, later day alienation of the sort ably portrayed in fiction like The Beach. The author has supplies in great store, alcohol in great store, a plan of the venture, contacts made, visitors dropping in. A great store of books is packed for the venture and then mentioned there after as being read or lines quoted from each or the ideas unattributed arise and will be spotted by anyone familiar with the source material.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Andrew on 5 Oct. 2014
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This book initially appealed to me because I'm basically a misanthrope at heart. Describing six months spent living an almost solitary life - effectively in the middle of a wilderness, it sounded like a wonderful adventure.

Sylvain Tesson is a man who is committed to nature and the existence of wild unspoilt places. Talking of nature reserves (big ones) he says "we would know that life in its wild state was carrying on in that haven, and that this thought would be an elixir". I completely agree. He seems to believe however that too many people believe that man's right to all of the planet will dominate and presumably, ultimately, damage such spaces. I am sad to say I agree.

The book feels quite short - and six months passes very quickly. Along the way there is a lot of nature, vodka, snow and more vodka. I was expecting a more straightforward account of the time spent in a small cabin next to the shore of Lake Baikal and although there is a lot of very descriptive prose to that effect - there is much also about literature and philosophy. He thoroughly explores the area around him through the changing seasons - from winter through to summer and in that time the Baikal transitions from a seemingly endless plain of ice to a vast body of water.

Translated from French there is much that is strikingly descriptive and thought provoking in this book; a great read about nature and what it is to live with it rather than in spite of it. I was sad to come to the end of his amazing journey. As Sylvain puts it, he "left the cave of cities and lived for six months in the church of the taigas". Like the author, I was sad to come to the end.

I'm must say I'm envious of the opportunity he had - and which he embraced. I'm not sure I could have handled the hangovers...
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