By Lynn Willoughby
Barkskins ~ Annie Proulx
This seven hundred page doorstop of a book begins in 1693 as French immigrants were arriving in Kebec (Quebec) where their first impression is that “Mosquitoes covered their hands and necks like fur”. “The second impression was of dark vast forest, inimical wilderness,,,” And so begins the family saga that ends in 2013.
This is the story of family, of hardship, of the Mi’kma’ki people. Mostly it is the story of the forest. We read about fortunes made and lost on trees, lives lived in forests, game retreating as the trees are plundered, fire, death, changes to the land and climate. But the basis is always the forest.
While we follow two family lines through generations of ups and downs, the minutiae was just too much for me. This is generally the type of story I love, but after 538 pages I had had enough and skipped to the end. While I do like reading historical fiction and I learned a lot of cultural heritage, the details were never ending and slowed down the story itself. Yes life was hard and winters were cold. Yes people were brutal and greedy, people died due to illness or accidents or they just walked off and were never seen again. Yes, Europeans act like they are entitled to the land and its bounty of furs and trees. Yes, Proulx did an enormous amount of research prior to writing this epic novel, but with a span of over three hundred years, multiple generations, three continents I just got worn out holding the book! I just don’t need to know that much about scaling logs!
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