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Barkskins book of kauri logging


If Annie Proulx had her way, New Zealand would have featured in more detail in her latest novel, Barkskins. Source: The New Zealand Herald

Much of that was about the logging of kauri forests; descriptions of the overall ecosystem including detail about flax. Also jettisoned, a section about log-poachers in Sumatra for the final portion of the book.

“If I had not been reined-in, book-buyers would probably have needed a wheelbarrow to carry a copy of Barkskins home,” Proulx said.

Her descriptions of New Zealand’s native forests ring with an awestruck air; the hard-scrabble life in a kauri logging camp in a country on the edge of the world is depicted with a large measure of guts and little glory.

Barkskins is an epic story, starting in the late 1700s when two illiterate woodsmen, Rene Sel and Charles Duquet, leave northern France for New France in North America to seek their respective fortunes.

One plays by the rules; the other prefers to chart his own course and no prizes for guessing who comes out on top.

The fates of their respective descendants are intertwined as the years pass. These men and women travel far and wide, even to New Zealand. Many die horrible deaths – indeed one of the most unexpected and sad occurs in our part of the world – and no one, even those who achieve wealth and apparent success, lives happily ever after.

“Barkskins is about deforestation, which is linked to climate change,” she said. “It also represents indigenous people and shows the replacement of peoples with an animistic understanding of the forest with people who see it as resource for individual gain and, as you say, ‘success, wealth and power.’

Barkskins started with an observation made while travelling around the US. While on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, she happened across a town, all but abandoned, and a sign that proclaimed something along the lines of the locale having once been the finest white pine forest in the world. She noted there wasn’t a single pine standing.