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By Annie Proulx

Barkskins is a fabulous tale that spans multiple centuries and generations, beginning with the colonization of New France and the displacement of the Mi’kmaq people.  In essence, it is about the relationship of humans to the forest and also to each other.  It is about acceptance, cooperation, competition and extinction.

In this lengthy tale, the characters travelled through the woods of Maine, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, the U.S. and even overseas, in search of the lumber needed to build the New World. The European settlers, who could not understand the Mi’kmaq connection to the forest, embodied the spirit of insatiable greed as they claimed moral title to a land they did not own.  Burning or chopping the trees to create farms, they destroyed countless species, habitats, and indigenous plants.  This wholesale clearing of land also resulted in the end of the Mi’kmaq traditional lifestyle.

Historical accounts of this period usually focus on white settlers.  In Proulx’s narrative, the story weaves together the lives of the Mi’kmaq and the Europeans, creating a tapestry of family ties and opposing ambitions.  Dense and lush, Proulx offers numerous details about methods of trade, communication and exploration, as well as descriptions of life at that time.  Equally fascinating is the dichotomy between the Mi’kmaq and the European way of thinking. 

I was so involved in the story that I wasn’t quite ready for it to conclude.  There is a lot to think about in this novel, not only about the past, but also about the future of our planet.  We cannot turn back the clock, but as we go forward, we can hope to heal our relationships with both the forest and the First Nations people who would willingly have shown us a better way, had we only listened.

Barkskins by sonja_library