Consolations of the Forest

Consolations of the Forest : Alone in a Cabin in the Middle Taiga

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In Consolations of the Forest, Sylvain Tesson explains how he found a radical solution to his need for freedom, one as ancient as the experiences of the hermits of old Russia: he decided to lock himself alone in a cabin in the middle taiga, on the shores of Baikal, for six months. From February to July 2010, he lived in silence, solitude, and cold. His cabin, built by Soviet geologists in the Brezhnev years, is a cube of logs three meters by three meters, heated by a cast iron skillet, six-day walk from the nearest village and hundreds of miles of track.

To live isolated from the world while retaining one's sanity requires a routine, Tesson discovered. In the morning, he would read, write, smoke, or draw, and then devoted hours to cutting the wood, shoveling snow, and fishing. Emotionally, these months proved a challenge, and the loneliness was crippling. Tesson found in paper a valuable confidant, the notebook, a polite companion. Noting carefully, almost daily, his impressions of the silence, his struggles to survive in a hostile nature, his despair, his doubts, but also its moments of ecstasy, inner peace and harmony with nature, Sylvain Tesson shares with us an extraordinary experience.

Writer, journalist and traveler, Sylvain Tesson was born in 1972. After a world tour by bicycle, he developed a passion for Central Asia, and has travelled tirelessly since 1997. He came to prominence in 2004 with a remarkable travelogue, Axis of Wolf (Robert Laffont). Editions Gallimard have already published his A Life of a Mouthful (2009) and, with Thomas Goisque and Bertrand de Miollis, High Voltage (2009). In 2009 he won the Prix Goncourt for A Life of a Mouthful, and in 2011 won the Prix Medicis for non-fiction for Consolations of the Forest: Alone in Siberia.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 256 pages
  • 142 x 218 x 28mm | 399.99g
  • London, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 0141975474
  • 9780141975474
  • 237,276

Review quote

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 -- Jerome 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 Menibus * 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 *
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About Sylvain Tesson

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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Rating details

2,359 ratings
3.85 out of 5 stars
5 30% (708)
4 37% (884)
3 23% (544)
2 7% (169)
1 2% (54)
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