Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Review: All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost

Written by Lan Samantha Chang
W.W. Norton, 2010; 192 pages

This review refers to an advance reading copy of the novel.

Description from the publisher:
At the renowned writing school in Bonneville, every student is simultaneously terrified of and attracted to the charismatic and mysterious poet and professor Miranda Sturgis, whose high standards for art are both intimidating and inspiring. As two students, Roman and Bernard, strive to win her admiration, the lines between mentorship, friendship, and love are blurred.

Roman's star rises early, and his first book wins a prestigious prize. Meanwhile, Bernard labors for years over a single poem. Secrets of the past begin to surface, friendships are broken, and Miranda continues to cast a shadow over their lives. What is the hidden burden of early promise? What are the personal costs of a life devoted to the pursuit of art? All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost is a brilliant evocation of the demands of ambition and vocation, personal loyalty and poetic truth.
My Thoughts:

Lan Samantha Chang's All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost is a beautifully written novel about the lives of the poets. In this case, the poets are three members of a poetry writing program in a Midwestern university – a program not unlike (I suspect) the Iowa Writers' Workshop of which Chang is the director – and the poet-professor who influences their lives far beyond the seminar room.

The story is told in three major sections. We first meet Roman, Lucy, and Bernard in the poetry-writing class led by the famous (and feared) poet Miranda Sturgis. After graduation, we follow Roman as he begins his own teaching career, marries Lucy, and struggles to complete a long-worked-on volume of poetry. When Bernard becomes homeless for a while, he spends several months with Roman and Lucy – so the friends are together again after many years, and their relationships are renewed and undergo changes. Then, in the third section of the book, we drop back in on the group ten years later for a final look.

I enjoyed the book as I was reading it. The academic settings seemed very authentic, and the book moved along at a nice pace. And while I can't say I really liked any of the characters, they did seem real to me – sometimes frustratingly real. However, I have to admit that a week after finishing it, I found myself struggling to remember much about the characters or the incidents. Perhaps it was a little too realistic to be really memorable. Or maybe it's just that the writing life – or any life devoted to the pursuit of art – is never easy to portray in writing.

Still, I definitely think the book is worth reading, if only for Chang's gorgeous and elegant prose style. She's a new discovery for me, and now I'm eager to read her earlier work.

[Note: My advance copy of this book was provided free of charge, by the publisher, through Library Thing's Early Reviewer program. I received no other compensation. No one attempted to influence my review, and the opinions stated here are my own.]

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this review. I'm wondering if this would be a good one for my Not So Bebe Girl Autumn, who's going off to college next year. She's a poetess, but more along the line of spoken word, and competes in competitions, readings and other poetry-related activity. I think I'll give it a look-see.

    Julie @ Knitting and Sundries


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