The Consolations of the Forest: book review

The Consolations of the Forest:

Alone in a Cabin on the Siberian Taiga


Sylvain TESSON
Translated from the French by Linda Coverdale

244 pages

Release date: September 17th 2013 by Rizzoli Ex Libris
First published in French in 2011

In full compliance with FTC Guidelines,
I received this book as a free ebook from
the publisher though Edelweiss
in exchange for a fair and honest review.
I was in no way compensated for this post,
and the thoughts are my own.

Consolations of the Forest

This book counts for the following Reading Challenges

2013 Ebook Challenge New Authors 2013 


Rating system

I’m extremely grateful to Rizzoli Ex Libris for allowing me to read this book for free.

Here is the blurb I wrote for Bloggers Recommend:
This book is to be savored word by word. It is the diary of a man who spent six months by himself in a cabin on a Siberian lake. It contains beautiful and very evocative descriptions on the landscape, on solitude, on life, and on his numerous readings

The Consolations of the Forest has to be my most favorite nonfiction book of the year so far. I totally fell under the charm of its writing, a mix of haunted beauty on the nature setting, of deep and sometimes ironic or humorist reflection on the human condition, and notes on lots of books the author took with him, when he decided to go live by himself for 6 months in a little cabin on Lake Baikal, in Siberia.

As you know, I love nature and solitude, and reading, very much, so having all of them together was a total gem for me.  And the writing is so very poetic. I wanted to read and reread some passages, and that’s why I took time to write down all these quotations. I have not done so to that extent for a long time, proof that this book is really amazingly beautiful. No wonder it received the famous Prix Médicis in France, for the nonfiction/essay category.

The author has the knack for seeing the beauty everywhere around him, by all kinds of weather, in the visit of a titmouse, in the movement of the wind on the water. With him, I experienced the change between seasons in Siberia: I had no idea things could be so green and full of life in summer.

There are also interesting passages on his relationship with visitors, yes, he had a few visitors actually, and his growing friendship with a dog.

The only one thing that bothered me was the amount to alcohol he drank! There’s a lot of reference to it all along the book. But really this should not stop you from trying this gorgeous narrative, something new and very refreshing.



A meditation on escaping the chaos of modern life and rediscovering the luxury of solitude. Winner of the Prix Médicis for nonfiction, The Consolations of the Forest is a Thoreau-esque quest to find solace, taken to the extreme. No stranger to inhospitable places, Sylvain Tesson exiles himself to a wooden cabin on Siberia’s Lake Baikal, a full day’s hike from any “neighbor,” with his thoughts, his books, a couple of dogs, and many bottles of vodka for company. Writing from February to July, he shares his deep appreciation for the harsh but beautiful land, the resilient men and women who populate it, and the bizarre and tragic history that has given Siberia an almost mythological place in the imagination. Rich with observation, introspection, and the good humor necessary to laugh at his own folly, Tesson’s memoir is about the ultimate freedom of owning your own time. Only in the hands of a gifted storyteller can an experiment in isolation become an exceptional adventure accessible to all. By recording his impressions in the face of silence, his struggles in a hostile environment, his hopes, doubts, and moments of pure joy in communion with nature, Tesson makes a decidedly out-of-the-ordinary experience relatable. The awe and joy are contagious, and one comes away with the comforting knowledge that “as long as there is a cabin deep in the woods, nothing is completely lost.” [from Goodreads]


Sylvain TessonSylvain Tesson is a writer, journalist, and celebrated traveler. He has been exploring Central Asia—on foot, bicycle, and horse—since 1997. A best-seller in his native France, he is published all over the world—and now in the United States. [from the publisher’s website]

Sylvain Tesson est le fils de Marie-Claude et Philippe Tesson et le frère de la comédienne Stéphanie Tesson et de la journaliste d’art Daphné Tesson.
Géographe de formation, il effectue en 1993 un tour du monde à bicyclette avec Alexandre Poussin avec qui il traverse l’Himalaya à pied en 1997. Il traverse également les steppes d’Asie centrale à cheval avec la photographe et compagne Priscilla Telmon, sur plus de 3 000 km du Kazakhstan à l’Ouzbékistan. En 2004, il reprend l’itinéraire des évadés du goulag en suivant le récit de Sławomir Rawicz : The Long Walk (1955)1. Ce périple l’emmène de la Sibérie jusqu’en Inde à pied.
Sylvain était également un « escaladeur de cathédrales » et au sein d’un cercle d’acrobates on le surnommait « le prince des chats », tandis qu’il escaladait Notre-Dame de Paris, le Mont-Saint-Michel, l’église Sainte Clotilde et d’autres monuments (principalement des églises) à Orléans, Argentan, Reims, Amiens ou encore Anvers.
En 2010, après avoir fait allusion à ce projet de nombreuses fois, Sylvain Tesson passe six mois en ermite dans une cabane au sud de la Sibérie, sur les bords du lac Baïkal, non loin d’Irkoutsk. Selon ses propres dires : « Recette du bonheur : une fenêtre sur le Baïkal, une table devant la fenêtre ».
Il voyage la plupart du temps par ses propres moyens, c’est-à-dire sans le soutien de la technique moderne, en totale autonomie. Ses expéditions sont financées par la réalisation de documentaires, par des cycles de conférences et par la vente de ses récits d’expédition.
Il écrit également des nouvelles. Il signe de nombreuses préfaces et commentaires de films. Il collabore à diverses revues. On peut retrouver ses bloc-notes chaque mois dans le magazine Grands reportages. Depuis 2004, il multiplie les reportages pour Le Figaro Magazine avec le photographe Thomas Goisque et le peintre Bertrand de Miollis. Il signe plusieurs documentaires pour la chaîne France 5.
Il obtient le prix Goncourt de la Nouvelle en 2009, pour Une vie à coucher dehors (éditions Gallimard, 2009) et le prix Médicis essai en 2011 pour Dans les forêts de Sibérie. [from Goodreads]





20 thoughts on “The Consolations of the Forest: book review

  1. Emma, I read this book in French last year (Les Forêts de Sibérie) and share your enthusiasm for this book and the author. Sylvain Tesson has talent (beautiful prose) and courage galore. It is given to few to spend six long months in isolation in an extremely difficult environment – and then write about it beautifully. No wonder he drank to excess: vodka helped him survive and was, I suspect, as much a necessity as an indulgence. Anne-Marie Simons


  2. It sounds like a beautiful read and I’ve added it to my Goodreads TBR list. Your mentioning his alcohol consumption intrigues me. I know the arguments of drugs/alcohol supposedly taking people to “higher levels” of whatever it is they’re seeking, but I don’t buy it. I believe that someone cannot be truly be present to an experience if they’re under the influence of a mind altering substance.


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