Monday, March 7, 2011

Book Review: All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost, by Lan Samantha Chang

All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost
by Lan Samantha Chang
W.W. Norton and Company
205 pages

When the author of the novel you're about to pick up is the director of the famed Iowa Writer's Workshop, you expect great things. 

Fortunately, that's what you get with All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost.

This short, almost novella-length book was one that I saw on my library's New Books shelf, and I was intrigued by the title and Ms. Chang's credentials.  (I confess, I have often wondered what it would be like to be a student at the Iowa Writer's Workshop. Some people dream of fame and stardom. I dream of Iowa City.)  Anyway, this was the rare book that I hadn't heard much buzz about among book bloggers or anyplace else, and I kind of liked the idea that I might discover a little gem to tell you about. 

I'll admit that the premise - as described on the jacket cover - didn't strike me as overly original, but the story started growing on me fairly quickly. 

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.

Yeah, we can tell where this is going, can't we? 

Roman and Bernard are both students in Miranda's poetry seminar, as is Lucy.   Over the next 30 years, all four of their lives will continue to intersect, even as their careers go in different directions, and their friendship and allegiances will be tested.

One of my favorite quotes from All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost is this:

"The people who matter the most to us in the end , who teach us the most, are the people who make their worst mistakes with us." (pg. 133)

I think the opposite is true, too.  I think we make our worst mistakes with the people who matter most to us.  That's definitely the case with the characters in this novel.

I'm really glad that I gave this one a chance.  There are several moments of surprise, of slight twists that I wasn't expecting, and the last dozen pages or so are reminiscent of the Six Feet Under series finale. (If you are/were a fan of the show, you know what I mean.) The prose is tight and the pacing is such that the narrative just flows almost effortlessly, making it a quick read. (I read this over the course of one day, starting at lunchtime and then finished it up in the evening. This would be a perfect Read-a-thon book.)

Overall, All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost is a nicely-written character-driven book that makes one think about how much credit we owe those who have influenced our success and the intangible currency that we all use to pay the price.

What Other Bloggers Thought:

The Blue Bookcase
S. Krishna's Books

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Elizabeth said...

sounds great -- thanks for the review!

nomadreader said...

Oh, I must make time for this one! I have it on my shelf and haven't gotten around to it for some reason. I'm glad you liked it!