Book Talks: Barkskins

barkskinsBarkskins by Annie Proulx

Barkskins by Annie Proulx, the Pulitzer Prize winning author of the Shipping News, is an epic saga spanning more than 700 pages and 320 years. This historical novel covers the North American forestry industry from 1693 onward, juxtaposing life in harmony with our natural resources versus environmental exploitation for profit.

In the late seventeenth century two penniless young Frenchmen, René Sel and Charles Duquet, arrive in New France. They are bound to a feudal lord, called a “seigneur,” for three years in exchange for land. They work as wood-cutters, commonly called “barkskins”. It is a dangerous job and they suffer extraordinary hardship in their new homeland. Rene is forced to marry a Mi’kmaw woman, and their descendants live trapped between two opposing cultures. But the wily and cunning Duquet escapes from the seigneur, becomes a fur trader, and starts his own lumber business. The novel Barkskins details the lives of the descendants of Sel and Duquet over the next three hundred years including their global travels under brutal and often violent conditions.

Incidents including vengeful rivals, accidents, and disease keep the reader interested in the larger tale of the forestry industry itself: a finite ecological resource that has been harvested for profit without adequate consideration for the environment and its residents. By the time you’ve finished reading this epic, you’ll know everything you’ve ever wanted to about our Boreal forests.

Barkskins by Annie Proulx is available to reserve at the Haliburton County Public Library.

*Originally aired on 100.9 CANOE FM.

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