“Magnificent.” (Anthony Doerr, author of All the Light We Cannot See)
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, marvelously dramatic novel about the destruction of the world’s forests.
In the late seventeenth century, two penniless young Frenchmen, René Sel and Charles Duquet, arrive in Canada, then known as New France. Bound to a feudal lord, a seigneur, for three years in exchange for land, they become woodcutters—barkskins. Sel 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 hostile cultures. 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 and cultural annihilation. Again and 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 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 superb marriage of history and imagination.