In this winner of France's 2019 Prix Renaudot, adventurer Tesson visits the mountains of Tibet in search of the famously elusive snow leopard. For the chance to glimpse this near mythical beast, Tesson and his companions must wait for hours without making a sound or a movement, enduring the thin air and brutal cold. Their vigil becomes an act of faith, which Tesson explores in all its peculiar dimensions.
... ably translated by Frank Wynne ... Tesson is hardly the first to sing the praises of patience...but that doesn’t stop him from presenting it to the reader as a revelation. This would be tiresome if he weren’t a terrific writer, making the most of staying put in an interesting place ... The other saving grace of The Art of Patience is that...it is often quite funny ... Observant, funny, a stylish writer: so far, so encouraging. But what Tesson is not, we soon learn, is patient ... Markedly antediluvian notions of gender run through The Art of Patience. In Tesson’s telling, women are from Venus, as are most modern men; real men are, apparently, from twelfth-century Mongolia ... Tesson... tilts dangerously toward that old familiar strain of fascism in nature writing, the strain that despises cities as breeding grounds for the foreign and impoverished while promising to restore to a purer people glory and lands ... Humankind as destructive, culture as corrosive, progress as decline: these are old saws, dull from use, dull from their stalemate combination of truth and falsity ... The great imaginative failure of both the spiritual and the misanthropic strains of nature writing is that they valorize the challenges that arise when we confront ourselves and the wilderness but not the challenges that arise when we confront one another. Tesson comes maddeningly close to understanding what those interpersonal challenges require of us ... The real art of patience isn’t the one required to see a snow leopard, that grand incarnation of unfettered wildness; it’s the one required to save it.
Tesson writes in an almost stream-of-consciousness style to capture his observations, jumping from Buddhist tenets about life as suffering to the Finnish concept of sisu, or gritty determination, to teachings from the Bhagavad Gita about avoiding anticipation or expectation. Exceptionally well translated by Wynne, Tesson’s latest is part travelogue, part philosophical treatise, and part meditation on patience, a thoughtful read as we venture back into the larger world and seek new adventures.
Tesson writes—in snippets, rather than chapters—beautiful observations about the scenery, spiritual insights, and humanity in poetical bursts. While the book's subtitle suggests that the snow leopard features prominently, only a small portion of the work focuses on the animal. Readers drawn to lyrical yet adventurous narratives will enjoy this one. Tesson's deep thoughts are softened by his jokes, but some of the humor or asides might not resonate with an American audience (European readers would probably have a better understanding of the context). The story's heavy reliance on Buddhism and Taoism to ponder nature and patience might also divide some readers.