Katie Kitamura’s spare novel Gone to the Forest begins in an unnamed country on the brink of civil war. The details on the setting and time period might be vague but it sets the tone for the main characters who seem lost in a fog of colonialism. Life for the white settlers has become more unstable. Tom and his father live on a large family estate, and run it as a fishing resort for other rich whites. Lacking his domineering father’s charisma and initiative, Tom seems an unlikely fit to one day inherit the estate.
His father arranges everything, including Tom’s engagement to the neighbor’s visiting niece, Carine. That engagement doesn’t stop his father from bedding her, nor does it stop Carine from becoming the victim of a horrible group assault at a dinner party. The family, the farm, and the country all seem to unravel at the same time, and Tom is ill-equipped to navigate through increasing confusion and violence.
The spare prose highlights the fragility of the country and the characters themselves. It’s a story that lingers in one’s memory like a sort of deja vu, but the details aren’t the point: It’s the feelings the novel evokes that are worth remembering.