BY SOPHY KOHLER
The second novel from Japanese-American writer Katie Kitamura, author of The Longshot, recalls neither Gordimer nor Coetzee. While it has been compared to both (Coetzee’s Disgrace making the most regular appearance), not least by Salman Rushdie, it is more accurately reminiscent of Ceridwen Dovey’s lesser-known debut, Blood Kin. Not only is Kitamura’s style of writing similarly sparse, her sentences almost scientific in their minimalism, but she depicts an equally violent world, with equally brutal description.
Gone to the Forest takes its title from a quote by Knut Hamsun which also acts as an epigraph to the book. But the title is mismatched to the bleak environment in which Kitamura’s characters find themselves. The novel describes a father and his son, Tom, two white farmers in an unnamed colonial country on the brink of rebellion. We think immediately of Zimbabwe, but Kitamura is unavoidably using the lack of specificity to hint at the universality of her story.
The father, known only as “the old man”, is preparing to pass the farm, rich in dorado, on to his son. But an unprecedented volcanic event destroys the land and kills the fish; it is an omen forecasting the seizure of the farm and the old man’s demise. The remote farm in a desolate landscape is an effective, if obvious, metaphor for the relationship between the two men. The old man is any father, the stereotype of a father; he represents the old order, dying with the arrival of the rebels and with the dawn of the new era. If the novel has a fault, it is this — Kitamura’s reliance on allegory seems, at times, a cop-out. It is a way of avoiding any real explanation.
Gone to the Forest may be a novel about men, their power and their weaknesses, but Kitamura seems to use this to make a point about the status of women — her female characters are treated not unlike the land. It is a thoughtful consideration of the bloodthirstiness of colonialism and resistance.
Gone to the Forest is published by The Clerkenwell Press and is one of AERODROME’s WinterReads.
GIVEAWAY: Win a copy of Gone to the Forest by Katie Kitamura. To enter, email competition(at)aerodrome.co.za, with the book’s title in the subject line. In the body of the email please include your full name, contact number and physical address (including area code). Only readers resident in South Africa are eligible. Entries close 15 August 2013.