A Review of ‘All is Forgotten, Nothing is Lost’ by Lan Samantha Chang
I was not a fan of this novel. The story centers around two-would be poets, Bernard Sauvet and Roman Morris. The novel itself is written from Roman’s perspective. This may have contributed to my dislike of the novel, as Roman is an overly self-interested and self-absorbed character who seems incapable of developing genuinely reciprocal relationships with anyone else. Since the story was told entirely from Roman’s perspective, I never felt like I had a good understanding of who the other characters were and where they were coming from. Consequently, there was not a single character that I actually liked.
Roman Morris and Bernard Sauvet adhere to the relatively standard dichotomy of earthly and transcendental interests: while Roman is concerned with becoming famous, Bernard spends years working on a single poem, and is content to bounce from low-paying, dead-end job to low-paying, dead-end job while he works on his masterpiece. Unsurprisingly, Roman finds the success and acclaim that he desired as a youth, but is ultimately unsatisfied with both his life and his poetry. In contrast, Bernard, in the few brief snapshots that we are given, is portrayed as both content and fulfilled despite his lack of recognition and wealth. This type of dichotomy between the earthly and the transcendental has been heavily overused, and additionally rests upon a fundamentally flawed premise: there does not need to be any divide between the earthly and the transcendental. Except in rare cases, any division between them only serves to render each option fundamentally unsatisfying and invalid. While a life devoted to solely to material gain is ultimately soul-destroying and empty, a life devoted solely to spiritual pursuits deprives people of the sources of many of life’s greatest comforts and joys. True joy lies in achieving a balance between the two rather than in either material wealth or spirituality alone. Rather than see characters strive to achieve happiness based on a flawed model, I would much rather read a story about characters who are striving towards a realistic and achievable goal.