Reading Katie Kitamura’s Gone to the Forest is one of those experiences that renews your faith in letters. Salman Rushdie, in a quote on the jacket of the book, says “One thinks at times of both Coetzee and Grodimer, but Kitamura is very much her own writer, and makes you feel keenly the tragedy of her three lost souls.” And while comparing a writer to a Nobel winner might seem like an exaggeration or too tall an order, Kitamura’s Gone to the Forest shines and strikes in the way Coetzee’s Disgrace and Waiting for the Barbarians do. The brevity and power of her language are reminiscent of Coetzee but her psychological acuity and fascinating characters and fantasmagoric setting are all her own. Katie Kitamura’s writing is exciting, both the reality of it and the wondering what’s next.
I love the word fantasmagoric, and I love that this book is the slyest example of it. Kitamura’s world can feel like the past, the present, the future, and a complete fiction all at once. There is a technological feel to the farm world, though it’s juxtaposed with an old man’s disintegrating illness that feels impossible in a world with medicine. There’s a primal, ancient shyness in Tom, the main character and beleaguered son, one that feels completely foreign in the modern, digital age. A strange forthrightness in the woman’s character makes her feel like the archetype for the ruin of man, her actions and choices undecipherable.
The characters’ brains feel static, while the terrain is unstable, chaotic, and dangerous; their world changes but they absolutely can not. Their inability to adapt to the increasing violence around them turns them into unwilling, shocked witnesses of humanity, makes them perpetually surprised by the potential of abomination in violence. Kitamura’s conveying of this stubborn and confused innocence is perhaps what is the most universal aspect of Gone to the Forest. As witnesses to destruction in turn, the reader is maddened and sickened, both by the seeming leveling of a civilization and the main characters’ inability to comprehend it.