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Gone to the Forest

A Novel

About The Book

*San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of 2012
*Financial Times Best Book of 2012
*New Yorker Best Book of 2012

FROM THE CRITICALLY ACCLAIMED AUTHOR OF THE LONGSHOT comes this gripping saga about the destruction of a family, a home, and a way of life. Set on a struggling farm in a colonial country teetering on the brink of civil war, Gone to the Forest is a tale of family drama and political turmoil in which fiery storytelling melds with daring, original prose. Since his mother’s death, Tom and his father have fashioned a strained domestic peace, where everything is frozen under the old man’s vicious control. But when a young woman named Carine arrives at the farm, the tension between the two men escalates to the breaking point. Hailed by the Boston Globe as “a major talent,” Kitamura shines in this powerful new novel.


Gone to the Forest 1
Tom hears the noise from across the hall. A quick stream of native patois. At first he thinks it is the servants talking. But then he hears the crackle of static. The high cadence of a bugle. The voice picks up again and is louder. Agitated and declaiming.

It is the radio—somebody has left the radio on. Tom gets to his feet. The old man is not in his study, he is out by the river. But the noise is not coming from the old man’s study. Tom follows the sound down the corridor. He goes to the kitchen, thinking perhaps Celeste has been listening to the afternoon drama—

The kitchen is empty. The dishes sit washed and gleaming on the shelves. A drip of water from the tap. Perplexed, Tom turns around. The voice continues to speak from somewhere behind him. He follows the sound to the veranda. There, a radio sits on the edge of the table, the volume turned high.

Brothers, our time has come. We are tired of being ground under the boot of the white oppressor. We are tired of being suffocated by these parasites. For so many years we have not even been aware of their tyranny. We have been sleeping!

A chair has been pulled up to the table. As if someone has been sitting and listening intently. Tom does not immediately recognize the radio—he thinks it has been taken from the library, he cannot be sure. On the farm, they do not often listen to the wireless. Impossible to understand why it is here on the veranda.

Now it is time for us to awaken from our slumber. Rouse up, brothers! We will achieve our liberation and we will free this land! There will be a price. The parasites will not give up this country so easily. But we are brave, we are righteous men—

Tom frowns and switches the radio off. It is unusual to hear a native voice on the radio. The patois is thick and filled with anger. He can barely understand the words, it is a guttural nonsense to his ears. He still cannot imagine who could have moved the radio to the veranda. No servant would have dared do such a thing.

He looks at the chair. He thinks he can see an indentation in the seat. Like a ghost has broken into the farm, and in broad daylight, too. It is a good thing he was the one to discover it. Tom looks both ways before adjusting the chair and picking up the radio. Holding the machine, he looks out onto the land. It is quiet and he retreats inside.

THE HOUSE SITS by the edge of the river. It is big—a house with multiple wings and rooms and a veranda running along three sides. Outside this giant house there is a double row of trees, planted by the old man’s natives. Tom sits in the dirt beneath one of these trees, where there is shade from the blistering sun.

Tom’s father was among the first of the white settlers. Forty years ago, the old man arrived in the country and claimed his piece of land. One hundred thousand acres down a ten-mile spine running through the valley. The land belonged to no one and then it belonged to him. A stake driven into the soil. The old man swallowed up the land and filled it with native hands. The money and good fortune came shortly after.

The farm sits adjacent to the border and from its perimeter the neighboring country is visible. The parcel is big and the soil arable and there is also the river, which is wide and fast, clouded with sediment and Sargasso weed. The old man picked the land for the river. It runs straight out to the sea. The carnivorous dorado swim through in herds and purple hyacinth sprout on the surface.

For many years, the old man used the land as a cattle farm. The vast acreage turned to pasture, the herd growing by the year. A small crop also harvested. Today, he runs the farm as a fishing resort, for tourists who come from all parts of the world. The old man is imperious with the guests in the same way he is imperious with his servants. They do not seem to mind. They stay in the guest wing of the house and pay good money for the privilege.

Tom manages the farm. He oversees the daily operation of the cattle pasture, the fields, the river and the house. It is a great deal for one man to handle but Tom is good at his job. He is good with the fluctuations of the land, which he is able to read correctly. Also the domestic affairs of the house and kitchen. Tom is diligent and has an eye for detail, in which he often takes comfort.

Tom is the old man’s first and only son. This means that one day he will inherit the farm. He will run the fishing resort and that will be the whole of his life. Tom can see no other kind of future. It is the only horizon before him, but he has no sense of its constriction. Tom has a passion for the land. It is the one thing he knows intimately. He burrows into it, head down in the dirt, and cannot imagine a life beyond it.

Therefore, Tom sits beneath his tree. He presses his limbs into the soil, as if they would grow roots. It is the last week of the season but it is still hot. Normally, the tourists would have stayed. For the sun and the fishing, and with winter so slow to come. They would have sat on the veranda in friendly clusters, ideal for souvenir photographs. The women in tea dresses and the men in linen suits. Drinks served on the veranda after a hot day on the river.

Instead, the veranda is empty and silent. The radio having been returned to the library and the chair righted. Tom looks up when the door opens. The old man steps out onto the veranda. He is still in his work clothes, having spent the afternoon shooting old livestock. It is a task he always does himself. There are traces of gunpowder on his boots, the smell of fresh blood. The old man stands on the veranda, six feet tall in his riding boots, and does nothing to acknowledge his son.

After a long silence, he calls to him.


He is called Tom by everyone except his father, who calls him Thomas. It causes a split inside Tom/Thomas. He thinks of himself as Tom but only recognizes himself as Thomas. He does not know his own name. He realizes, has been aware for some time, that this is no way for a man to be. It is not something he can discuss with his father. He rises to his feet and goes to the old man.

“Yes, Father.”

His father watches him and is silent. He looks at Tom like he has never seen him before in his life. Possibly he wishes it were so. All this land and they cannot get away from each other, though that is not the way Tom sees it. The sun glows orange in the sky. For a long time his father is silent. Then he speaks.

“The Wallaces dine with us tonight.”


“Have you spoken to Celeste?”



The old man nods. On the farm they squander money on food. The youngest animals are slaughtered for the table. Pods stripped from the stalk. Roots upended from the soil. And then there are the tins of foie gras and caviar, the cases of wine that are flown in from abroad. Everything for the kitchen. Anything that could be needed.

Tom turns to go. He is not more than five paces away when something makes him stop. He is already turning when his father calls him again. Tom waits, some distance from his father.

“What is Celeste serving?”


His father ignores the question. Tom is immediately uneasy. It is not a normal query. The old man treats Tom like his chief of staff. He manages for the old man, sometimes he allows himself to imagine he is indispensable to him. But he is never able to get used to the idea. There is never the opportunity. The old man does not allow for it.

For example, now. His father is a man of appetite. He trusts Celeste with his stomach and that makes Celeste the most trusted member of the household. But now his father is asking what the menu will be and this is not normal. Fortunately, Tom has discussed the meal with Celeste. He clears his throat—a habit the old man hates—and begins.

“Oysters. Gnocchi. Lamb. Salad. Then cheese and ice cream.”

His father nods.

“The oysters?”

“They were brought in this morning.”

His father nods again.

“No fish?”


“Why no fish?”

“I will ask Celeste.”

“Tell her to put out the last of the caviar. I have no need of it. And tell Celeste to set the table for five.”

Mr. and Mrs. Wallace are occasional friends. They are marginal people of no interest to his father. The old man has made that abundantly clear. He does not say who the fifth guest is. Tom waits. The old man looks up.

“Do you have something else to tell me?”

He thinks of the radio on the veranda. Who left it there? Tom shakes his head. No. Nothing. His father nods and Tom goes. He walks to the kitchen to look for Celeste. This time she is there, stuffing pastry for the farmhands. She palms the meat into the pastry and slaps the food down on the tray. He stares at the meat. It is pink and red and white. Raw and unformed. Celeste looks up.

“He wants to know if there is fish for tonight.”

She shakes her head.

“Ah no.”

“He would like fish.”

She sighs and wipes her hands on a tea towel.


He ignores the question.

“Also he says to serve caviar to start, and to set the table for five.”

She shakes her head. Tcha tcha tcha, her tongue in her mouth. She throws down the tea towel. Neither Tom nor Celeste wants to serve fish at supper. But both know there will now be fish alongside the lamb, an additional course in an already long meal. Celeste will dress the fish in saffron and butter. Jose will pass around the table with the platter resting on his arm, lifting slabs of fish to the plates. He will use the silver serving spoon to pool sauce on top. Tom clears his throat.

“Did you take the radio out to the veranda?”

She stares at him blankly.

“What do you mean?”

Tom nods, then leaves the kitchen and walks outside. The air is still. He stands outside the house.

Something is wrong. The tourist season has been a failure. It was supposed to refill the coffers. It was meant to provide security. But the season brought them nothing and now the money is running out. Everybody knows the money is running out. It is no longer secret, it can be seen everywhere on the farm.

But there will be caviar, and guests! He does not understand his father. He goes up the steps and into the house. He walks along the veranda, along the perimeter of the house. Everything is as it should be. He enters the dining room. The table has not been set. Five, the old man said to lay the table for five. Tom stands for a long moment. He looks at the heavy oak table and the chairs. He stares at the marble topped credenza.

TOM RETURNS TO the row of trees. He sits in idleness. It is the tempo of this place. It overtakes him, he has no resistance to it. It is true Tom is a good manager, but that is almost despite himself, fundamentally he is lazy. His father is different. His mother was different. His mother was like his father, she was not from this place. She was nervous, set to a tempo that was out of pace with the draw of the land.

It could not be changed. His mother came ten years after his father and left ten years ago, dead from exhaustion. They shipped her body back across the sea in a bare pine box at the request of her family. The life had been too much for her. His father said that the moment she set foot on the land. Nobody was surprised when she died. It took her twenty years to do it and they were surprised it took her so long. She had been dying the whole time. She was half dead when she gave birth to him and after that died by increments.

Tom remembered her sometimes. Early on she had been diagnosed consumptive. That was a disease from long ago, an illness that no longer existed, but it still managed to kill her. She ate up her body. In the last years of her life she burned through her organs and limbs, she combusted inside her skin. Like she was in a hurry and couldn’t wait any more. Sometimes he could smell the scent of her decay, lifting high off her body.

That was his mother. She gave birth to him and he slithered from between her legs and out into the land and dust. From the start he was of this place. He was country born and at home with the bramble. For the first year Celeste nursed him at her tit. She held him while he scratched and suckled. Celeste had a son exactly Tom’s age, Jose. She raised the two boys together. Jose’s father being nowhere in sight. However, the two boys did not grow up like brothers.

Jose was healthy, indefatigable, stubborn even as an infant. Tom, on the other hand, was not a strong child. He had a skin condition that weakened his body and stunted his growth. Dry scales grew at his elbows and knees. Left alone, Tom would peel long strips of skin from his body. When Celeste discovered the raw lengths she would take him to the river and press handfuls of mud against his wounds. Covered in river sludge, he was left out in the sun to heal.

Between themselves, the natives called him Lizard Boy. His father blamed his mother for the boy’s condition but Tom always believed the weakness to be his own. In the same way the land was seated deep inside him: it was a congenital disorder of sorts. He also knew the weakness meant that he would not die like his mother. It was self-preserving. He retreated into his weakness and lay down inside it. It was a thing of comfort in a life that was not, on the whole, filled with comfort.

As a child he sought solace in lies, and has been a liar ever since. He is not a good liar but he is a persistent one. The first time he lied over a plate. Tom had been sent to the neighboring farm for the afternoon. The farmer’s son had a set of plastic dishes. The colors were cheap and bright and when Tom pressed his thumbnail into the plastic it left a crescent-shaped mark. Tom wanted one of the plates. He slipped it into his pocket. Then he got up quickly and left without saying goodbye.

His father was waiting for him at the steps of the house, like he had seen his guilt from a distance. He stopped Tom and lifted him from the ground, his fingers digging into Tom’s armpits in a way that was not friendly. Tom kicked to be lowered and the plate fell to the floor. The plastic sounded ugly and hollow against the tile. Stupidly, he tried to conceal the plate with the sole of his boot.

His father did not look surprised.

“Where is that from?”

“The boy gave it to me.”

“He gave it to you?”

“A gift.”

“The boy gave you a gift.”


“You are lying.”

He was whipped by a servant. His father did not bother to listen. To the whizz of the cane, to his miserable shrieks and howls. Nonetheless, Tom continued to lie. His father asked him who broke the vase in the hall. Who left the gate open and set loose the cattle. It was like the sight of his father’s face made the lie that followed inevitable.

Even then, all Tom wanted was the old man’s approval. Unfortunately, he was never able to act in a manner to win it. Tom knew he would not be punished for the act itself, only for the lie. What his father did not understand was the lying. He needed, on the whole, to dominate what he did not understand. Tom told one lie and then another. He was whipped by the servants again.

TOM WAS NOT a good liar, but Tom’s mother had been good enough to make a career of it. She lied to her husband for the full course of her affair with a neighboring farmer. She used Tom as an excuse. She said he was uncomfortable with himself and other children. He needed to be socialized—that was the fashionable term she applied to her son’s unfashionable condition. Every other day she walked him three miles to the neighboring estate. She left him in the yard with the other children and disappeared inside.

The children played in the dirt and listened to the shrieks that rang out across the farmstead. Which sometimes sounded like an animal dying, painfully. She came out of the farmhouse with her skin a hectic red and one hand pressed against her head. Tom watched as she smoothed her hair into place. Calmed the surface of her dress. Then they walked the three miles home, his hand sticky in hers. He knew but did not mind the fact that she was lying. He thought the secret would bring them closer.

There were other flaws in his character, beyond dishonesty and misapprehension, which together conspired to make the son incomprehensible to the father. For example, Tom was a coward. He was easily frightened and physically uncertain. He was not very old when the physical fear became a moral one. It was therefore natural that his father held him in contempt: the old man does not recognize fear as a valid emotion.

It did not help that Tom was especially afraid of the dorado. To him they were a terrifying fish. The dorado grew four feet long in the river, larger than a child and much larger than the child Tom had been. The male fish bore square blocked foreheads and male and female alike their bodies turned gray as they died out of water. But while alive the fish were fearless and had tremendous appetite.

Tom’s father loved the dorado. He is this fish: his father is the dorado. 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 he told him that the dorado were a vicious fish that ate into a man’s strength.

Tom remembered how his father caught the dorado on the line. How he began to reel it in. The fish rose out of the water and dropped back in. It appeared to Tom as large as a grown man, as large as his father. It jerked through the water, under the boat, into the air, back into the water. The rod almost bending in two. Tom was not certain that his father would bring it in. He thought surely the rod would snap.

But his father brought the fish in. It was a giant. Male, with the alien crested forehead, the yellow body thrashing against the line. His father lifted it high in the air. He admired the heft and weight, the golden turn of the scales, the tremendous girth of the fish. Then he placed it in Tom’s arms. Tom almost fell with the weight of the dorado, the coldness of the scales, the inner muscle of the animal shuddering hard against its death.

When he came to, his father was standing above him, holding the fish by its tail. Tom watched as he seized a knife and dug into the belly of the fish. He drew a long vertical slit and the crimson guts of the animal tumbled out onto the deck. He ignored his son as he scooped the intestines into one hand and threw them back into the river. The dorado swarmed the boat, jaws snapping.

The fish became their livelihood. Running a farm was an expensive business. The river supported the farm and allowed them to maintain the large holding of land. More and more tourists came to the province in search of the mighty dorado. His father took them out on the boats at dawn. He taught them to cast out and reel in. He brought in the fish and gutted them before their eyes, he treated them the same way he had treated Tom, years ago.

When his father arrived in the country he was a young man. Now he is old. Now he sits—he squats, he straddles—the land. But his presence has been heavy from the start. He picked out the land by riding in the night with a torch held high above his head. A native dug a trench in the soil behind him. The next day they went back with wood and wire and it was done. The old man makes his choice. He grips it out of the air with his hands. He is essentially a violent man.

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 this was chosen for him, and Tom barely aware of it. It is simply his world.

FOR SEVERAL YEARS the pool of guests has been dwindling. There have been empty rooms at high season and the river has remained full of fish, something impossible even a few years ago. Across the province there are fewer visitors. They are far from the cities to the north. The cost of travel is high. And there is unrest in the country, Tom has heard it said. It is growing and the news of it is spreading abroad—bad stories, violent stories that do not inspire confidence.

One by one the gentleman farmers are moving. The idea of living in open land surrounded by natives is no longer appealing. Those with houses in the cities are giving up the country life and moving north. They are closing their farms and estates, which are becoming too hard to protect, having always been vast and exposed. They leave them in the hands of the hardier settlers who remain in the province and are a restless and violent presence. They do not say when they might return.

The circle of refined company is shrinking day by day. Once there were dances and banyan parties—once there was a social calendar! Tom and his father remain. His father does not believe in the city. The other farmers tell him to move out of the country, that it is dying in front of them, that soon it will no longer be safe. His father chooses to stay on the side of the land. He cannot imagine being without the farm. In this, father and son are united.

It is now near evening. Tom stands in front of the mirror in his room. It is large and crowded with things. Furniture brought over from the old country by his mother or father. Objects shipped to them by strangers. He finds these histories oppressive but has essentially grown used to it. Tom does not expect privacy, even in his own room. Carefully, he adjusts the lapel on his jacket and smooths his hair back with grease. He checks the crease in his trousers and then leaves the room, closing the door behind him.

He walks the house in search of his father. He goes across the foyer, which is full of potted trees. Miniature orange trees. Plum trees. He passes the dining room and notes the good linen and silver and china. He sees that the table is now set for five. Five plates, five sets of glasses and cutlery. He pauses, and then walks out to the veranda, slowly.

He walks in the direction of the river and finds his father within minutes. The open land pulls to the river. Which has become the old man’s sole preoccupation as the province empties and the tourism dwindles. A year ago they installed the river farm. Now the pools float in the middle of the river like space age contraptions. The fish birthing and growing, inside the skin of the device. The river flushing in and out.

Tom frowns as he looks at the river. The old man has staked much on the river farm. The pools were installed at vast expense and they sucked the savings—the bounty of those years of lush tourism, now coming to an end—right into the water. At first it did not seem promising. The natives talked of evil and contamination. The eggs floated in the steel and mesh like a river disease.

But then the fish grew. They grew until the pools were full of fish flesh, pressed close together. Now it seems clear that the river farm is what will allow them to live. It will sustain the farm, through the rumors of unrest. It will pay for the imported caviar, the cashmere blankets, the fur coats, the coffee and tea. His father jokes that he is become a fishmonger but already there are plans for more pools, placed downstream, placed upstream. The province empties of landlords and tourists but there are always the fish and the natives.

Every week they drag the pools out of the water and the fish are culled. Then they are sold to buyers in the cities. They are packed into ice and flash frozen and shipped around the world. It is ridiculous, but they are earning themselves a reputation. His father talks about sustainable models of growth. He says there will be money soon, in the next year.

Tom does not like the river farm. When he looks into the water it is like the river is choking on the pools. The pools hovering like prey amidst the hyacinth. Being of the country, he cannot wish to dominate it in the same way as his father. Who in some ways is still a visitor here. But Tom knows his father is right. Soon the river farm will be established. The money will flow in like water. The money is floating in the river now, and it will save them.

Which is why his father stands and stares at the water—the way a man stares at a pile of gold. Tom watches his father looking at the pools. The pools can only be seen by the clear-sighted. They are nothing but the faintest trace in the water. The old man is dressed in dinner clothes. A rim of dust gathers around the toe of his shoe, is lifted on a slow gust of wind. The wind goes, and the dust is gone and the old man’s feet stand in the dirt.

The sound of a motor vaults across the silence. His father looks up. Tom sees the Wallaces’ Ford pulling across the land. A small cloud of dust follows as it kicks down the track. The dust pulls and tugs and puffs and grows behind the vehicle. The motor rumble comes closer. His father stands and watches as the car approaches. Tom has already turned and is walking back to the house. He turns his head once to look back. The car is inching closer across the horizon. Tom quickens his pace.

By the time the car has pulled through the gates of the house the servants are ready and the ice in the liquor trolley has been freshened. Tom stands in the shadow of the veranda and watches as the car pulls down the drive. His father stands at the foot of the steps, one hand slipped into his suit pocket. His face is expressionless. The driver pulls the door open. Mr. Wallace. Mrs. Wallace. A third figure steps out of the car. A young woman, in a brightly patterned dress, emerges from the interior.

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Gone to the Forest includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Katie Kitamura. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


Set in an unnamed colonial country, Gone to the Forest begins at a critical historical moment—the brink of a civil war. The novel opens when Tom, the only son of a rich landowner, discovers a radio mysteriously announcing news of a spreading rebellion. A series of tragic events follows, both on the farm and across the country—events that further strain the relationship between Tom and his father, and cause Tom to lose his already fragile grip on the only life he has ever known.

  Topics & Questions for Discussion 

1. Gone to the Forest begins when Tom hears a noise: the call to arms for the native rebellion on the radio: “Now it is time for us to awaken from our slumber. Rouse up, brothers! We will achieve our liberation and we will free this land!” (p.9) Could this message also apply to Tom and his relationship to his father, and by extension, to the land? Why do you think the author chose to begin the novel with this message? How does it foreshadow future events that take place? Ultimately, who do you believe was listening to this radio broadcast?
2. Discuss the title. What kind of imagery comes to mind when you think of the phrase “gone to the forest”? Who do you think is going to the forest, and why? In your opinion, what does the forest represent?
3. Throughout the novel there are repeated descriptions of the way the land functions in relation to the characters. Discuss how the old man lives in relation to the land. Consider the language used to describe this relationship, such as “the old man swallowed up the land and filled it with native hands.” (p. 10) In opposition, consider the way Tom treats the land: “he presses his limbs into the soil, as if they would grow roots.” (p. 11) Discuss the two characters’ vastly different relationships with the land. What does the land represent to each of them?
4. Discuss Tom’s deceased mother and the role she plays in Gone to the Forest. Consider the following quote in your response: “Nobody was surprised when she died. It took her twenty years to do it, and they were surprised it took her so long. She had been dying the whole time. She was half dead when she gave birth to him [Tom] and after that died by increments.” (p. 16)
5. On page 19, Tom describes the dorado—a fish that was terrifying to him but that his father loved. “He is this fish: his father is the dorado,” Tom thinks. What do you think he means by this? Like the fish, Tom’s father “ate into a man’s strength.” (p. 19) How do you see this playing out in the story?
6. Revisit the dinner party scene that begins on page 25. How does this scene act as a catalyst for the rest of the action in the story? Is any one person responsible for what follows this dinner party? Or was the group collectively at fault?
7. Many of the characters in the story are without agency. Tom, especially, has little choice in anything—not his name, job, country, wife, or future. But for Tom, there is a comfort in the oppression. (p. 34) Do you think Carine would agree? Talk about the different ways this lack of control affects each of the characters.
8. Consider the role of names in the story. Tom is the only character, besides Celeste and Jose, who is called by his name throughout the story. Although Carine has a name, she is more frequently referred to as “the girl.” And the old man is never named. How do names, or the lack thereof, define these characters? Do you see any relationship in the novel between an individual’s name and his or her power?
9. In many ways, the town does not ever recover from the volcano’s eruption. In your opinion, what does this eruption symbolize? Why were the people of the town so surprised by the “violence” of the land? (p. 42)
10. Is Gone to the Forest ultimately a story of violence? Consider colonization, the volcano, the rape, the rebellion, and the father-son dynamic in your response.
11. The male characters in this novel use language one might use to describe colonizing land to describe their relationship to Carine. What are your feelings about colonization in relation to female oppression? Do you see a connection between the two themes?
12. “Tom leaned closer. He could not remember the last time he had touched his father’s body.” (p. 67) This quote is taken from the scene where Tom saves his father’s life in the ash storm. Do you think these two men love each other? Why or why not?
13. Tom describes Carine as “the physical manifestation of the barrier Tom had often tried to deny” (p. 76) between father and son. Is this how you would characterize Carine? Why or why not? If not, how would you describe her character?
14. Describe the relationship between Tom and Jose. How are they similar, and how are they different? Why do you think they have such different fates?
15. Discuss the ending of Gone to the Forest. What do you think happens to Tom and Carine? Do you think the couple dies? Do you hold Jose responsible if they do?

Enhance Your Book Club

  1. The far-reaching impact of colonialism is central to Gone to the Forest, and in many ways, it is what drives the characters to action. Explore this theme further with your book club by reading the short novella A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid and watching the movie Out of Africa (1985). How does Kincaid’s book differ from Gone to the Forest? On which side of the divide does Out of Africa fall? What are the similarities between the characters in all three of these stories? What are the differences? Consider point of view in your discussion—from what lens are each of these stories taking place?
2. Discuss the following quote: “It is not yet past. But it is slipping away. She can see that soon there will be no way of talking about it. That the past is going to be sealed off and the keys to the locks will be lost. It is already happening and she is starting to forget, she has already forgotten, how she got to where she is now.” (p. 169) Share with the group a time when you may have felt this way about a past event in your own life. Do you think as a collective society we forget the past too quickly? Give examples to support your answer.
3. Read Katie Kitamura’s first novel, The Longshot. What common themes run through these two very different novels? Did you prefer one to the other?   

A Conversation with Katie Kitamura 

Why did you decide to set this story in an unknown country and town? What did you hope to achieve by setting the story in such ambiguity?

The setting of Gone to the Forest is a patchwork of different colonial histories. It combines elements of colonial Kenya, Argentina, India, Zimbabwe; in this sense it’s set not simply in an unnamed country, but also an unspecified time period. It seemed to me that this might be a fruitful way of looking at the legacy of colonialism, by breaking its narrative down into fragments and reconstituting these into a collage-like setting and story. It also seemed like it would be representative of the increasingly fractured way we experience historical narratives.

How did the experience of writing this book differ from your other novel, The Longshot? How was it similar? Did you find one more challenging to write than the others?

The Longshot is a small, self-contained novel; it takes place in a single setting, over three days. Gone to the Forest is a more sprawling affair, and makes reference to, among other things, multiple historical contexts. They each had their own challenges, but both are novels concerned with the violence of male relationships, and with masculine hierarchies of power.

The characters in Gone to the Forest are not, on the whole, sympathetic. Why did you choose to portray them as such? Can you talk about the advantages of telling the story this way?

Likeability doesn’t seem to me a necessary, or even relevant, component of fiction. Elfriede Jelinek says a wonderful thing about flatness in characterization: “Psychological realism is repulsive, because it allows us to escape the unpalatable reality by taking shelter in the ‘luxuriousness’ of personality, losing ourselves in the depth of individual character.”

My sense is that there should be multiple ways of talking about characterization that extend beyond the categories of depth or sympathy.

Who are your influences as a writer?

This varies, but I have been very influenced by writers like Elfriede Jelinek, Herta Müller, Jean Rhys, Marguerite Duras.

What kind of research went into the writing of this novel?

I studied a lot of colonial history, and narratives—good and bad. This encompassed classics of literature and more salacious fare and ephemera.

One thing that interested me was the continued nostalgia for the trappings of colonialism. You can see it in very banal things: in African safaris, in the design of hotels in Southeast Asia. The aesthetic of colonial life, its sense of decadence and adventure, has a toxic hold on the imagination. That aesthetic is increasingly free-floating, and without context—another example of the way we now process and relate to history.

In what ways does “land” or place affect your writing?

In this novel, land is important in terms of atmosphere, but is primarily important because it is a form of property. The land is central to the narrative, because property, ownership, and domination are at the heart of the various struggles that shape the book.

Do you hope to break any stereotypes with this novel? Why or why not?

The novel isn’t addressed to a stereotype as such. I think it would be hard to write in response to a stereotype—it forces you to make assumptions about who your reader might be, and can become a question of definition by negation.

The novel is maybe less concerned with stereotypes, and more concerned with archetypes—of fathers and sons, power and submission. One thing I was interested in writing about was misogyny. The novel is dominated by male relationships. What is the position and experience of women within this matrix of possible violence? How is their subjective experience denied, their presence excluded? These were some of the things I wanted to think about in writing the novel.

Why are you drawn to writing male characters, both in The Longshot and in Gone to the Forest? What are the challenges for you, as a woman, in writing about masculinity?

In a way, it’s easier to write about men than women—much of the literary canon, and much of the culture at large, is written by men, about men. There’s no shortage of precedent. In The Longshot, I was interested in appropriating masculine writing about masculinity; in Gone to the Forest, I tried to write about the exclusion of women from a predominantly male world.

Can you provide any more insight into the ending? Do you believe there is a chance that things do not end badly for Tom and Carine? In such a place, can these two characters ever hope to achieve happiness?

I think things end badly for Tom and Carine, but if I had to put my money on one of them, I’d put it on Carine.

What are you reading now? What is next for you as a writer?

I like reading fiction in translation. One of the things I like is the discordance translation can create in terms of prose style; unsuccessful translations are almost as interesting as successful ones. Recently, I’ve been reading a lot of Javier Marias, who deals with the philosophical import of translation, as well as some literary couples: Elsa Morante and Alberto Moravia, Ingeborg Bachmann and Paul Celan. As far as writing goes, I’m working on a third novel, which has elements of feminist science fiction and psychological horror.

About The Author

Photo Credit: Hari Kunzru

Katie Kitamura is based in New York. She has written for numerous publications, including The New York Times, Wired, and The Guardian, and is a regular contributor to Frieze.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Free Press (August 7, 2012)
  • Length: 224 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781451656640

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Raves and Reviews

What Kitamura summons brilliantly is the sensation of a repressed and repressive society laid bare - erotically, psychologically and politically. She writes with equal authority about the weight of a man’s gaze on a disrobing woman and the sensation of being exposed by history’s glare … Gone to the Forest confirms Kitamura’s prodigious talent.”

– The New York Times Book Review

“A startling, discomfiting work, written in razor-sharp prose. J.M. Coetzee’s work comes to mind, as does Michael Haneke’s, but there’s a sweet coldness here that is all Kitamura’s. This is her second novel, a brilliant book early in what will surely be a major career.”

– Teju Cole, Financial Times, "Best Books of 2012"

"Darkly seductive"

– Vogue UK

“Hypnotic prose [with] flashes of unexpected beauty… so spare as to almost be incantatory… It marvelously suggests the chaotic, contradictory and highly changeable way the mind works…. Gone to the Forest, in just 200 pages, floats, unfolds and astonishes.”
— Marie Myung-Ok Lee, San Francisco Chronicle on Gone to the Forest

“Kitamura offers echoes of J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace,coolly chronicling the family’s undoing as it tracks against the politicalturmoil ripping through the nation.”
New York Times on Gone to the Forest

“A ruthless, controlled style distinguishes this novel about a man and his oppressive father in an unnamed colonial country that’s about to blow... [Kitamura’s] style reminds one of Marguerite Duras and Herta Müller—writers who have had to reckon with power in the colonial Indochina and the repressive Romania, respectively. Power is the subject, and the execution is precise.”

– The Daily Beast

“Kitamura’s words are tough, and her characters are tied to the tails of wounded beasts: mother countries, the land itself, and hierarchies both out of steam and out of date... Kitamura makes the end of history—many histories—seem both casual and immediate.”
—Sasha Frere-Jones, on Gone to the Forest

"Katie Kitamura expertly melds the personal and political in one of the year's most unforgettable novels."

—Largehearted Boy on Gone to the Forest

“Striking… Beautifully written… Kitamura’s carefully wrought characters are captivating.”

– Hyphen Magazine

"Gone to the Forest is Katie Kitamura's second novel, about a family and the cost of European colonization in an unknown time and place... that recalls, at first and most often, J.M. Coetzee's South Africa. Kitamura writes with fine tension and clipped grace. Her observations are subtle and sharp. The volcano's importance in the story evokes Aime Cesaire's poem Corps Perdu, which begins, 'Moi, qui Krakatoa ...' and is a soaring command, in the wake of decolonization, for 'the islands to be.' [She is a] rising literary star."

– The Spectator

“In this wondrous tale of both a family and a country’s dissolution, Kitamura brings readers into an unspecified time in an unnamed colonial country ... Kitamura, with spare, mesmerizing prose, paints a memorable vision of emotional chaos echoed by geologic and political turmoil.”
Publishers Weekly, (starred review

) on Gone to the Forest

“[Kitamura’s] unidentified place and time, and the actions and motivations of these three human cyphers, ensure that readers will be pondering Gone to the Forest long after they finish that final sentence.”

– Booklist

"The death-throes of a colonial world captured in dark, obsessive prose, punctuated by images of strange, surreal beauty: the falling ash, the river of dead fish. One thinks at times of both Coetzee and Gordimer, but Kitamura is very much her own writer, and makes you feel keenly the tragedy of her three lost souls."
— Salman Rushdieon Gone to the Forest

"A watchful and magnificent work. From the first page, Kitamura is in complete control, both of the prose and of the story it carries. She is a skilled hunter and we are her helpless prey."

– Teju Cole, author of Open City

"Gone to the Forest is a mesmerizing novel, one whose force builds inexorably as its story unfolds in daring, unexpected strokes. Kitamura’s prose brings to mind Cormac McCarthy or Jean Rhys, but the music of these lines is all her own—lyrical, sharp-edged, spare, and unafraid. Be warned: you’ll find yourself reading long past midnight, out of breath and wide awake. This is a bold and powerful book."

– Julie Orringer, author of The Invisible Bridge

“Katie Kitamura is a major talent. It is not often I read a book of controlled, illuminating, prose and it is even more rare that the story therein survives the style. I was reminded of the writings of Herta Müller and J.M. Coetzee, both important storytellers of our time and vanguards of form. Kitamura's spare, elegant and affecting work in Gone to the Forest brings the reader in and out of the nexus of three souls caught in a nameless land, in a nameless time, and gently observes as they try to give name to their relation to one another, to the land, to the times and to themselves. Gone to the Forest is a book of atmospheres and moods, details and desires and Kitamura handles the nuances with the grace and confidence of a writer beyond her years.”

– Laleh Khadivi, author of The Age of Orphans

“I have been in a daze ever since I finished this book. Gone to the Forest is superb. It is so beautifully written, so balanced - there isn't a spare sentence or word in the whole thing. Utterly distinctive, it is almost allegorical in its force. Kitamura is of the best living writers I've read, and she gives the dead ones a run for their money.”

– Evie Wyld, author of After the Fire a Still Small Voice

“Gone to the Forest is a stark, urgent, beautiful novel. Katie Kitamura merges history and fable to create an explosive narrative about people trapped by terrible events they cannot control, but in which they are also deeply implicated. Its themes are ambitious—guilt and innocence, power and submission, meaning and nonsense. The characters and images of Gone to the Forest continue to haunt me, a tribute to their lasting emotional power and their creator’s extraordinary gifts.”

– Siri Hustvedt, author of The Summer Without Men

"With spare and deliberateprose, Kitamura brings this fable of power's illusions to a stunning,breathtaking conclusion. Along the way ... she shows why she has earnedcomparison to great writers like Nadine Gordimer and Herta Müller. Gone tothe Forest is a beautiful, indelibledepiction of the horror of primal impulses."

– Shelf Awareness

"[Kitamura's] new novel, like “The Longshot,” pries open, with rare insight and compassion, the dangerous vulnerability, the wounding woundedness, that defines her men....Kitamura displays an uncanny talent for getting inside the body talk of unrevealing people...What Kitamura summons brilliantly is the sensation of a repressed and repressive society laid bare — erotically, psychologically and politically. She writes with equal authority about the weight of a man’s gaze on a disrobing woman and the sensation of being exposed by history’s glare....[Gone to the Forest] confirms Kitamura’s prodigious talent."

– The New York Times Book Review

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