Tesson had promised himself that before he turned forty, he would live as a hermit. Having visited the remote Lake Baikal on the Siberian taiga before, it was the perfect place for him to pursue this goal of living silently, intentionally, and simply, far from other men. In February, armed with provisions to get him through the long cold and the brief blossoming of spring, Tesson arrived at his remote cabin. He took just the basics, books, vodka, and cigars as he embarked on his journey. He records his days in a journal, spending much of his time hiking, doing chores around the cabin, fishing to supplement his supplies, and reading. His spare existence in his simple cabin is actually a luxurious examination into his own soul, an homage to the magnitude and magnificence of nature, and a chance to muse philosophically untarnished by the needs, wants, and demands of others. Tesson writes beautifully, recording exquisitely detailed observations about the world around him. His most frequent and welcomed visitors are the titmice outside his window. But there are other occasional visitors to his self-chosen hermitage as well. On rare occasions, he kayaks and hikes to visit his neighbors or they come crashing loudly into his peaceful solitude to drink vodka and tell tales. As his time on the edge of the forest continues, he adopts two small puppies as companions, changing the tenor of his isolated life.
Some of Tesson's entries in his journal are brief and others longer meditations on a life both tiny and vast. Sitting at his window and watching the lake, he captures the mutability of the weather and of his own moods. He celebrates the peaceful calm of life in seclusion and concludes that hermits are not fighting against the world when they retreat, they are simple walking away from it. He reads philosophy, other accounts of solitary living, and some popular crime novels for an interlude between the heavier books. But mainly he observes the world around him as he goes about his days: the weather, the wildlife, the forest, and even the rocks catch his eye. Current events, personal and political, rarely intrude on his self-contained life on the taiga although the occasional visitor brings days old newspapers and he hears both of his sister's baby's birth and of his girlfriend's final goodbye on his mostly unused satellite phone. This is a very contemplative and slow book, mirroring Tesson's days. But in the reading of it, it asks you to take a brief respite from all the noise swirling around, to sink into its words, and to commune with that tiny piece of your own soul engaged by the loveliness of the writing and the thoughts between these covers.
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Thanks to Emma from France Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.