Thursday, January 25, 2018

779 (2018 #2). Barkskins

by Annie Proulx,
read by Robert Petkoff

This is an epic (713 pages in print) novel tracing two families involved in different ways in the timber industry in North America (primarily - also a bit in New Zealand as well).  It starts in 1763 with two French immigrants to Canada, RenĂ© Sel and Charles Duquet.  Both are indentured servants, but Duquet runs away and becomes a successful fur trader - and eventually a timber baron, changing his surname to Duke.  Sel marries a Native American woman, and their descendants work in the forest, but rarely own much.

The book then follows down each line about six generations, to 2013.  Along the way, the two families intersect.  Some characters are more memorable than others.  In particular, I liked RenĂ©'s great-great grandson Jinot Sel and his (mis-)adventures in New Zealand, as well as Lavinia Duke Breitsprecher, who is about as ruthless in business as her great-great-grandfather Charles.

The stories move all over the world too, from Nova Scotia and Maine to France, London, Amsterdam, New Zealand, China, and the Amazon, as well as to various American cities (Boston, Detroit, Chicago) as the Duke company enterprises move westward.  Lots of period details make the settings come alive.  It's obvious author Annie Proulx has done her research.

The book also has ecological themes, on the impacts of deforestation as well as the decimation of native populations.  The ecological message gets a little heavy-handed at the ending of the book, which is also rather abrupt and unsatisfyinng (at least to me).

Actor Robert Petkoff is an outstanding reader on the audiobook, creating appropriate accents and voices for each character that help to distinguish them.

A three-page PDF can be downloaded from the e-audiobook edition (in OverDrive) and viewed with Adobe Digital Editions.  Besides the cover image, it contains the family trees (which are hard to follow) that also found in the print edition.

© Amanda Pape - 2018

[The e-audiobook, and a print copy for reference, were borrowed from and returned to my university library and local public library respectively.]

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