Friday, December 06, 2013

France Book Tours -- The Consolation of the Forest & Giveaway

Today I'm reviewing The Consolations of the Forest by Sylvain Tesson for FranceBookTours. I received the book free in return for a fair and honest review.
This nonfiction book follows the adventure of a 37-year-old Frenchman who decides to spend six months in an isolated cabin in Siberia. That's right, Siberia.
On page 86 he explains why he decided to isolate himself from the world.
Reasons Why I'm Living Alone In A Cabin
I talked too much
I wanted silence
Too behind with my mail and too many people to see
I was jealous of Crusoe
It's better heated than my place in Paris
Tired of running errands
So I can scream and live naked
Because I hate the telephone and traffic noise.
Already, I'm thinking, aren't there deserted islands in the Pacific where he could scuff around in the sand and live like Tom Hanks in Cast Away? I mean, can't you do all those isolated things in a warm climate?
But Tesson is something of an adventurer and had traveled in Siberia before, so there's where he decided to go.
As I read this book, I was struck by something that a French visitor said recently when he came to Ohio. He saw the movie Captain Phillips and I asked if he liked it. He said, "It was very American." He explained that things were clear cut, black and white with the hero winning everything. That's when I realized how different Americans and French people are. This book emphasizes those differences.

Here's a passage from page 94 to help explain the author's need for isolation as he compares himself to old Chinese men who retire to cabins to prepare for death:
Non-action sharpens all perception. The hermit absorbs the universe, paying acute attention to its smallest manifestation. Sitting cross-legged beneath an almond tree, he hears the shock of a petal striking the surface of a pond. He sees the edge of a feather vibrate as a crane flies overhead. He feels the perfume of a happy flower rise from the blossom to envelop the evening.

In addition to living as a hermit, Tesson takes along a bunch of books to read -- these books are not what most people would consider entertaining or distracting. Nietzsche, Camus, Thoreau, the Stoics
Here's a quote from page 24 that turned me off the book:
In What Am I Doing Here? Bruce Chatwin quotes Jünger quoting Stendahl: "The art of civilization..."
You know what, it doesn't even matter what Chatwin quoted Jünger quoting Stendahl. That puts me off. As I tell my English Comp students, go directly to the source.
Some of the writing is beautiful, like this paragraph from page 41:
Yesterday's wind has polished the rink. I glide over the glaze with the grace of a seal. Internal faults sheet through the ice in turquoise veils. I pass refrozen fissures the color of ivory. I maintain my balance, skating on the reflections of mountains that resemble shy dancers, cinched into their white dresses and hesitating to join the waltz. 
Tesson makes this experience sound beautiful, but he can't escape the fact that it is kind of boring. If he is bored living it then it will not entertain me.
If I were French, if I were deeper, if I were living alone in Siberia, this book would probably sweep me away. But I am none of those things.
This is an, at times, beautiful book that is full of contemplative ideas about life and nature.
Maybe I am too American for this book. My idea of a back-to-nature book is A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson or Wild by Cheryl Strayed. My blog friend Emma said this is her favorite nonfiction book of the year. I can see that. She likes to read philosophy and to think deep. That is exactly the kind of person who will enjoy this book. If that's you, you are in for a treat.
U.S. and Candian readers can leave a comment to win a hardcover copy of this book.
SYNOPSISA meditation on escaping the chaos of modern life and rediscovering the luxury of solitude.
Winner of the Prix Médicis for non-fiction, THE CONSOLATIONS OF THE FOREST is a Thoreau-esque quest to find solace, taken to the extreme. No stranger to inhospitable places, Sylvain Tesson exiles himself to a wooden cabin on Siberia’s Lake Baikal—a full day’s hike from any “neighbor”— with his thoughts, books, a couple of dogs, and many bottles of vodka for company. Writing from February to July, he shares his deep appreciation for the harsh but beautiful land, the resilient men and women who populate it, and the bizarre and tragic history that has given Siberia an almost mythological place in the imagination.
Rich with observation, introspection, and the good humor necessary to laugh at his own folly, Tesson’s memoir is about the ultimate freedom of owning your own time. Only in the hands of a gifted storyteller can an experiment in isolation become an exceptional adventure accessible to all.  By recording his impressions in the face of silence, his struggles in a hostile environment, his hopes, doubts, and moments of pure joy in communion with nature, Tesson makes a decidedly out-of-the-ordinary experience relatable to the reader who may be struggling with hir or her own search for peace and balance in life. The awe and joy are contagious, and one comes away with the comforting knowledge that “as long as there is a cabin deep in the woods, nothing is completely lost.”  [provided by the publisher]
Release date: September 17, 2013
Page number: 256Publisher link:
 Author bioSylvain Tesson is a writer, journalist, and celebrated traveler. He has been exploring Central Asia—on foot, bicycle, and horse—since 1997. A best-seller in his native France, he is published all over the world—and now in the United States.


Harvee said...

I would have to be in the mood for this one - meaning I would read it in bits and pieces, when I crave solitude.

Book Dilettante

Paulita said...

Harvee, That sounds like a perfect idea.

Anonymous said...

thanks for your honest review. And yes Harvee got a great idea here.

Linda said...

I find a lot of French too morose for me. Don't think I'll read this one.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I read it last weekend and thought it was good, but I won't be gushing about it.

I like to be alone, but my idea would be maybe a cabin in the woods in summer in Maine with a coffee shop near. Nantucket would work as well in winter:)

Paulita said...

Diane, Glad you enjoyed it. I think I will revisit in more contemplative times.

Unknown said...

I love books set in nature, this certainly looks like something I'd enjoy!

Louise said...

I hadn't heard of this book before, it's such an interesting thing to do. I was thinking of Thoreau, interesting that he took it along with him to the cabin (his reading choices were certainly different to what I would take). I would need to be in the mood for this one, and I don't read all that much nonfiction anyway. I'll keep an eye out for it here though.

bnre said...

The book resonated with me many more times than other things i've read... really liked it.

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