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Consolations of the Forest: Alone in a Cabin in the Middle Taiga Hardcover – 30 May 2013
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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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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... the hermit denies the vocation of civilization and becomes a living reproach to it. He is a blot on the social contract." If civilization is good, if capitalist, consumer-culture, gossiping and being busy, busy, busy is healthy, why would anyone choose to abandon it?
But more than the act of physical escape, the freedom Tesson seems to enjoy the most is that of time unbound. "I am free to do anything in a world where there is nothing to do," he says. He spends days wandering around, collecting logs, looking at birds, drinking (rather large amounts of) vodka. And why not? Who is there to tell you to do otherwise? What is there to make you do otherwise?
"In cities, the minutes, hours and years are the flowing blood of wounded time, and they escape us." In isolation, time expands. In Siberian isolation, time almost freezes. Tesson cuts off small chunks for himself like slices of dark, rye bread and gorges on them. This is mine, he seems to be yelling, and only here do I have the chance to really taste it. This is mine and you're having none of it.
Thankfully this book gives us a taste of some of the life-giving freedom that Tesson fed himself on for six months in Siberia, and through the objectively sliced aphorisms that he carves off on almost every page, the one that I find myself going back to is this. It comes after he has been chopping wood, out in -31ºF (-35ºC), and takes his "aching, numbed fingers" into the heat of his hut.
"Luxury is not a state but the crossing of a line." That is enough for me, but he goes on. "A threshold, beyond which, all suffering ceases."
So now each day, as I cross the line from work time to leisure time, from cooking in the kitchen to sitting in the lounge, from climbing the stairs to climbing into bed, I revel in the luxury that lies ahead, grateful for my time in the closest thing I can find to a Siberian hut... the train home with my head buried in a book; the curtains closed in my lounge, some music on; my eyelids sliding over my gibbous globes as I slip into sleep.
The hermit, solitude, finding oneself, getting away from the rat race, is a topic that has fascinated mankind throughout the ages, from Jesus or John the Baptist in the desert, to poet Alexander Pope, who locked himself away in a grotto. I myself was drawn to the title, having one or two books on the topic on my shelf, not to mention a log cabin in a forest in remote Finnish countryside (albeit, with family).
Tesson writes sparsely and simply - a very attractive feature for me - yet with sufficient depth for the work to be intellectually and emotionally satisfying. He writes like a poet, every word works hard, they are like the brushstrokes of a beautiful painting. The writing has enough wit and humour to rescue Tesson from the pitfall of taking himself too seriously or coming across as self-important.
It is a wonderful book, which I enjoyed very much. The surprise towards the end was incredibly moving.
Pure poetry and philosophy.
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The author leads the readers into a poetic journey through life which is well worth the read