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Barkskins
by Annie Proulx


Overview - THE NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
Finalist for the Kirkus Prize for Best Novel
A New York Times Notable Book
A Washington Post Best Book of the Year

From Annie Proulx--the Pulitzer Prize-- and National Book Award--winning author of The Shipping News and "Brokeback Mountain," comes her masterwork: an epic, dazzling, violent, magnificently dramatic novel about the taking down of the world's forests.  Read more...


 
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More About Barkskins by Annie Proulx
 
 
 
Overview
THE NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
Finalist for the Kirkus Prize for Best Novel
A New York Times Notable Book
A Washington Post Best Book of the Year

From Annie Proulx--the Pulitzer Prize-- and National Book Award--winning author of The Shipping News and "Brokeback Mountain," comes her masterwork: an epic, dazzling, violent, magnificently dramatic novel about the taking down of the world's forests.

In the late seventeenth century two penniless young Frenchmen, Ren Sel and Charles Duquet, arrive in New France. Bound to a feudal lord, a "seigneur," for three years in exchange for land, they become wood-cutters--barkskins. Ren suffers extraordinary hardship, oppressed by the forest he is charged with clearing. He is forced to marry a Mi'kmaw woman and their descendants live trapped between two inimical cultures. But Duquet, crafty and ruthless, runs away from the seigneur, becomes a fur trader, then sets up a timber business. Proulx tells the stories of the descendants of Sel and Duquet over three hundred years--their travels across North America, to Europe, China, and New Zealand, under stunningly brutal conditions--the revenge of rivals, accidents, pestilence, Indian attacks, and cultural annihilation. Over and over again, they seize what they can of a presumed infinite resource, leaving the modern-day characters face to face with possible ecological collapse.

Proulx's inimitable genius is her creation of characters who are so vivid--in their greed, lust, vengefulness, or their simple compassion and hope--that we follow them with fierce attention. Annie Proulx is one of the most formidable and compelling American writers, and Barkskins is her greatest novel, a magnificent marriage of history and imagination.

 
Details
  • ISBN-13: 9780743288781
  • ISBN-10: 0743288785
  • Publisher: Scribner Book Company
  • Publish Date: June 2016
  • Page Count: 736
  • Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds


Related Categories

Books > Fiction > Historical - General
Books > Fiction > Literary

 
BookPage Reviews

A saga of love and loss in Canada's unforgiving wilderness

Annie Proulx’s enthralling, multigenerational epic, Barkskins, opens in 1693 in the vast North Woods of New France (now Canada) with the arrival from France of two indentured woodcutters, or “barkskins.” René Sel feels with the first swings of his axe that he is “embarking on his life’s work.” But, blunted hatchet in hand, the ailing Charles Duquet can only nibble at his first tree. Duquet soon flees into the forest, changes his name to Duke and reappears as the canny founder of a Boston-based timber empire. Sel falls in love with a Mi’kmaw woman and fathers three children who mostly view themselves as native people.

The remainder of this 700-plus-page novel follows the lives of the Sel and Duke descendants up until 2013. The story unfolds against a background of social and political upheavals, beginning with the French and Indian war and ending with contemporary environmental conflicts. The Sels struggle to maintain a native culture as the natural world is altered by forces in which, for their own livelihoods, they must participate. The more powerful Duke family, whose timber interests eventually range throughout the world, has its own set of tragedies—and comedies.

Proulx’s human characters—their lives and deaths—are vividly conceived. Her portrayals of them are nuanced. In a recent interview, Proulx said she has been thinking about and researching this book for many years. It shows. Barkskins brims with a granular sense of human experience over a period of 300 years. And like many novels by excellent writers, Barkskins encourages understanding, if not empathy, for characters whose outlooks we might usually dismiss. The idea that the vast forests of North America could never be diminished, for example, is expressed often by her early characters. With hindsight, we scoff at such a notion today. But Proulx allows us to feel the reasonableness and need for such an outlook at the time, making us question our easy assumptions about people of the past.

And yet the most moving and most consistent character of Barkskins is the world’s forests. One of the great achievements of this novel is to create a sort of tragic personality for the environment. Proulx’s beautiful prose renders an exultant view of the life of forest worlds lost to us, in both their grandeur and their indifferent menace. It will be very difficult for someone to finish reading Barkskins without a deep sense of loss.

 

This article was originally published in the July 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

 
BAM Customer Reviews