We of the Forsaken World (Book Review)
by Kiran Bhat
4 / 5 Stars - Fiction
I was gifted a copy of this by the author in exchange for a fair review!
How to describe what this novel is about? It's interconnected stories, but not in the way that short stories sometimes are related. It is indeed a novel, but each character only has one chapter devoted to them, though they reappear in the story later, often multiple times. The novel follows these people in four areas of an undisclosed area of the world (a tribal village, a town struck by an industrial disaster, a rural village, and a city). I believe it's left intentionally vague where the novel is set but while that's a little jarring at first, it works. In fact, the entire novel is a little jarring, but when you get into it and see what the author is trying (and, I would argue succeeding) to do, you begin to appreciate the layers and complexity of the story(ies) he's telling.
This is one of those novels that sticks with you after you're finished. It's a novel that seems at the outset to be a bit of a gimmick (the end of chapters bleed into others, no one is named) but quickly disproves that with its deeply affecting prose and the universality of its themes.
Bhat writes in a concise yet lyrical manner that uses situations and inner monologue to convey action; most of what "happens" in the novel is how people are reacting to a situation after the fact or ruminating on what they should do. Some of their reactions are based on the changing world around them, such as emerging technology and globalization. Sexuality, particularly in conservative patriarchal settings, is also a theme that pervades and I thought was executed quite well in showing how contrived, yet constrictive, our systems are. I was particularly impressed with the female characters and how they were written (despite most of their arcs revolving around men). It's not the happiest of novels, but given the title, I was expecting a rather melancholy read.
One note: I did not read the introduction/preface. As a hard rule, I never read introductions. If I'm doing a New Historicist reading of a book when I complete it, I will then read an intro then, but going into a text I like to have no preconceived notions of it. I did read the text relating to the maps, which I found helpful.
This is an immersive, ambitious read. Thank you so much to the author for providing me with the opportunity to read it.