I first came across novelist Katie Kitamura when her first novel, The Longshot, landed unexpectedly in my mailbox. It had what might be the most badass cover in recent memory. Exhibit A:
It was an unlikely read for me. A novel about mixed martial arts? Nine times out of 10, that’s a pass. Once I started reading though, I was hooked. In Longshot, Kitamura channeled Hemingway. In all the right ways. Kitamura was kind enough to be interviewed for BGB, which is still a highwater mark for this blog. (Did you know that her brother had the name of her novel tattooed on his knuckles for that cover? I know, right? Badass.) I still can’t recommend Longshot highly enough. (Read my review.)
I received an early review copy of her latest novel, Gone to the Forest, back in January. January. I read it immediately. The novel was since released a few months ago, and I felt the need to go back and reread it for this review. Gone to the Forest is a completely different novel than her first in many ways, but it is similar to Longshot in one important aspect – Kitamura remains a fearless author.
The novel takes place on a large farm/plantation in an unnamed African estate in the last days of colonial rule. The farm is run by “the old man” who rules the farm and his son Tom with an iron fist. The dynamic between father and son is completely dysfunctional and in many ways mirrors the colonial rule. There is no love, and there is often barely tolerance of Tom who never learned to be the man his father wanted to be. So he leaves Tom as alone as he can. Tom’s mother has mercifully passed on. Kitamura lays out the differences between father and son:
Tom is different. He does not force himself upon the land. He does not force himself upon anything. There is very little that Tom can call his own. Tom is not like his father, Tom has chosen nothing. He did not choose the country or the piece of land. He did not choose the business of the farm. He did not choose the house, with its dark rooms and corridors. All of this was chosen for him, and Tom is barely aware of it. It is simply his world.
As the novel progresses there is talk of a possible insurrection. The tolerance of the locals for colonial rule has reached its limit and there is talk of spreading violence. Meanwhile, a wife is found for Tom and a hasty engagement ensues. But again, the dysfunctional dynamic between father and son plays out in the worst possible way. In the midst of the unfolding chaos a dormant volcano suddenly erupts coating the entire region in ashes, bringing to my mind John F Kennedy’s famous quote about nuclear war, “In which even the fruits of victory would be ashes in our mouths.”
Things go from bad to worse. Much worse. Kitamura’s two novels are about men in conflict with a world of violence. Her writing style is lean, muscular, and unsentimental. Again, a comparison to Hemingway is apt. Katie Kitamura is a fearless novelist. She is a badass, and I will gladly read all the novels that she cares to write. Even if it takes me months to tell you about them.