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At slightly over 700 pages, Barkskins is quite a time commitment, but if you love history and multiple generation sagas, the hours spent delving into this fascinating novel will be well worth it. As a descendant of a French Canadian lumberjack (woodcutter or barkskin), I was immediately drawn to this story. Proulx follows the lives of two indentured Frenchmen and their descendants for 300 years. Some endure hardships and near starvation, while others experience immense wealth. The destruction of massive forests of North America and other countries and the exploitation and near annihilation of native peoples are central themes that reoccur throughout the generations. The ecological disasters that we are now confronting have been set in motion for generations due to our repeated mismanagement and exploitation of human and natural resources. This is an environmental epic and a literary masterpiece.
— From Joan's Picks
July 2016 Indie Next List
“This multigenerational saga follows the fortunes of the Sel and Duke families from early Colonial days to the present, spanning centuries and continents as they make their living not only from the bounty of the land but also from the ravaging and destruction of it. As always, Proulx is brilliant at creating a story that flows impeccably, and her nature writing is some of the most beautiful and evocative to be found in modern literature. This novel is an epic work, a fictional Silent Spring that will linger with readers long after completion.”
— Bill Cusumano (M), Square Books, Oxford, MS
THE NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLERFinalist 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.