Gone to the Forest Reviewed By John Cowans of
John Cowans

Reviewer John Cowans: John was a University, College, and School English teacher for over 40 years, John Cowans now lives in retirement in Chester., Nova Scotia.

By John Cowans
Published on August 16, 2012

Author: Katie Kitamura
Publisher: Simon and Schuster, Free Press, 2012,
ISBN: 978-4516-5664-0

Author: Katie Kitamura
Publisher: Simon and Schuster, Free Press, 2012, 
ISBN: 978-4516-5664-0

As the old British children’s rhyme says, more or less, with apologies to A.A. Milne, ‘The life of the ‘reviewer’ is terrible hard, says Alice.’ But .... ‘hard pressed reviewer’,once in a long while, comes upon an author who brightens the horizon and shines like a  beacon of hope along the ranks of ordinary writers. Such is Katie Kitamura whose second novel, Gone to the Forest, itself an exceptional work, certainly presages even greater things to come. This has happened to me before. Some years ago, I interviewed Yann Martel about his novel, The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios, and then, a decade or so later, came The Life of Pi, a Mann Booker Prize winner.

Katie Kitamura, now living in London and New York, was educated at Princeton and University of London. She has written for numerous publications, including The New York Times, Guardian, Wired and Frieze; Her first novel, The Longshot, was published in 2009 by Simon & Schuster.

Gone to the Forest
is set in an unnamed colonial country in the 20th Century and is the account of the destruction of a family, a farm, and a country. One word can sum up this superb novel - simplicity, not only of theme, but also of the other key elements that make up a good story -plot, character, and style.

Kitamura’s theme is not original. Man versus nature has been developed in countless stories over the centuries; even the protagonist/man (Tom and his father) versus the antagonist/nature (the mountain and the river), is reminiscent of other novels, but the timelessness and the universality of this theme is so well handled that in this case this theme seems almost unique. Plot and character are similarly.refreshing. Tom and his father, referred to as the old man, run a thousand acre farm through which runs a river.

The farm formerly used to raise cattle is now a dwindling fishing resort for tourists who, now discouraged by political uncertainty, once came from all over the world attracted by ‘...the carnivorous dorado that come from the sea and swim up the river in herds.’ Tom, the old man’s first and only, son manages the once thriving business for his father. Dark clouds of unrest form over the once idyllic land. Enter first, Carine, known simply as the girl, and then the mountain, a latent volcano, suddenly explodes,and finally come rumours of sporadic rioting in the distant cities. The simplicity of the narrative is echoed in Kitamura’s clean and uncluttered sentences which are short and declarative, the one building naturally upon the next, for example:

‘Tom remembered how his father caught the dorado on the line. Once, when Tom was a boy, he took him out on the river. He might have been experimenting with the idea of being a father because he was unusually patient. He taught Tom to cast out to the water. He showed him how to reel in. He said very little but told him that the dorado was a vicious fish that ate man’s strength.‘

This lack of unnecessary embellishment enhances the allegorical nature of this narrative. There is a deceptive effortlessness about the symbolism in this story that will have wide and lasting with The Old Man and the Sea of which Hemingway wrote, ‘I tried to make a real old man, a real  boy and a real fish and real sharks. But if I made them good and true enough they would mean many things.‘

Katie Kitamura  is an important writer and I would expect to see her name grace the major prize lists in the not too distant future, if not for Gone to the Forest then certainly for novels yet unwritten.

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