Sylvain Tesson

The Consolations of the Forest: Alone in a Cabin in the Middle Taiga

“Fifteen kinds of ketchup. That's the sort of thing that made me want to withdraw from this world.”

Sylvain Tesson (b. 1972) is a formidable French travel writer, with experiences hiking across the Himalayas, biking around the world and following the path of Gulag escapees. In The Consolations of the Forest, Tesson retreats to a cabin in the woods on Lake Baikal.

He reduces stimulation, amplifies solitude and addresses his self. Tesson writes astutely about being interrupted by humans, devastated by it, in fact, a fundamentally unbearable “sad bunch of revelers.”

I’ve spent much time alone in the woods, this book resonated. Except being alone isn’t about avoiding others, that is unhealthy isolation. Nurturing and sustainable solitude is allowing others to flow through us, striking a balance between remaining unaffected and having empathy. I don’t have that balance, neither does Tesson.

Read further on the sustaining and self-evolving powers of solitude in Lynne Schwartz’s delightful Ruined by Reading. Learn more about self-renewal and discovery in moments of solitude in physicist Alan Lightman’s In Praise of Wasting Time.