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.
Praise for BARKSKINS by Annie Proulx
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Reading Group Guide
From Annie Proulx, the Pulitzer Prize– and National Book Award–winning author of The Shipping News and “Brokeback Mountain,” comes her masterwork: an epic, magnificently dramatic novel about the taking down of the world’s forests. From Canada to America, China to New Zealand, West to East, across history and the world, Barkskins takes the reader through generations of risk, love, empire building, disaster, toil, hope and progress, originating with two French adventurers who first make their way into the New World in the seventeenth century.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Why does Barkskins begin with Charles Duquet and René Sel? Discuss their similarities and differences. How do these two characters influence not only their descendants but also the three-hundred-year course of the narrative?
2. Monsieur Trépagny says, “Men must change this land in order to live in it,” and “To be a man is to clear the forest” (p. 17). Why does he believe this? What does René see more