On the Wandering Paths

2022
Author:

Sylvain Tesson
Translated by Drew S. Burk

A walking journey through France’s vast interior becomes a meditation on both personal recovery and the role of history in the present—more than 425,000 copies sold in France

Part literary adventure, part philosophical reflection on our contemporary consumer culture, On the Wandering Paths takes us deep into the heart of France’s “hyperrural” zones. Tracing the obscure paths peasants once followed throughout the countryside, the French writer Sylvain Tesson embarks on a three-month journey of solitude and personal contemplation in this meditation on the act of recovery.

After a free-climbing accident lands him in a coma and a hospital for four months, the French writer Sylvain Tesson makes a promise to himself: if he’s ever able to walk again, he will traverse the entire country of France on foot.

Part literary adventure, part philosophical reflection on our contemporary consumer culture, On the Wandering Paths takes us deep into the heart of what Tesson terms France’s “hyperrural” zones. Tracing the obscure paths peasants once followed throughout the countryside, Tesson embarks on a three-month journey of solitude and personal contemplation as he walks along vast stretches of mountain ranges and rivers, encountering ancient Roman stone bridges and walkways, the French Foreign Legion, pagan prayer sites, Provençal villages, and the majestic Mont-Saint-Michel. Connecting deeply with the places he visits, his experiences inspire reflection on the essential need to disengage from the digital and immerse oneself in natural beauty.

Rich with humor, historical insight, and literary power, On the Wandering Paths is both a meditation on the act of recovery and a potent recognition of the traces of our past in the present. Asking us to reassess our values and our relationship to the land, Tesson’s exquisite chronicle through landscapes that continue to resist urbanization and technology is a thoughtful—and thought-provoking—glimpse into a poet’s adventurous life. Les Chemins de Pierre, a film based on the book starring Jean Dujardin, is due to release in 2022.

Sylvain Tesson has walked from Russia to India, participated in archaeological digs in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and wintered alone in a cabin on Lake Baikal in Siberia. One of France’s most celebrated writers, he has been awarded the Prix Médicis and the Prix Goncourt de la nouvelle. He is author of The Consolations of the Forest and The Art of Patience: Seeking the Snow Leopard in Tibet, which won the 2019 Prix Renaudot.

Drew S. Burk is the editor of the Univocal series with the University of Minnesota Press and translator of several works of continental philosophy and theory, including Felwine Sarr’s Afrotopia (Minnesota, 2019).

Contents

Preface

1. Starting Off on the Wrong Foot

2. Of Ruins and Brambles

3. The Invisible Paths

4. The Invisible Shadows

5. Toward the Sea

Afterword: A Lesson in the Art of Dreaming

Drew S. Burk

Notes