Less Calvino More Camus

Kiran Bhat reached out to me over email to review his new novel “We Of The Forsaken World” after reading my review of “Invisible Cities” by Italo Calvino. “But things are not lasting, not eternal nor stable. They rise and fall and rise again – like the cities of Italo Calvino’s novel ‘Invisible Cities’.

This clue has given me a good starting point from whence to begin a review of “Forsaken World.” Bhat’s novel follows the paths of four civilizations: Tribe, Village, Lake and City as they “fall apart” as is written on the book’s jacket. Bhat was seeking to have the stories interconnect at precise moments along the paths of mayhem; and diverge again in a dance of destruction.

I think it probably makes sense for me to treat this goal objectively, juxtaposed against the subjective reviews which I often give when a novel I have chosen makes my heart sing. This, because “Forsaken World” is not a beautiful book. It is gritty and violent and uncomfortable – as it is supposed to be, these civilizations are falling apart and the process of destruction is never as glorious as the ruins left behind for tourists to ponder over, far in the future.

Does Bhat pull of what he’s trying to achieve? Sort of. “Forsaken World” is, I think, less Italo Calvino and more Albert Camus. Less Invisible Cities and more Myth of Sisyphus where Camus boldly states that the human situation is absurd and devoid of meaning. Less a delicate dance of construction and destruction, and more theater of the absurd, nihilistic in its lack of joy – for Camus’ existentialism was joyful. But there is nothing joyful about “Forsaken World“.

When I was reading this, I could not help but think about the 2006 Brad Pitt movie “Babel” – also a group of four stories that are not related, in that nihilistic, absurdist sense of “Why do things happen as they happen?” Or perhaps the 1994 movie “Being Human” by our departed friend Robin Williams, stories that are interesting and beautiful in a way but fundamentally unsatisfying, for in them are not found the answers of our great human experience, and humanity is above all in search of answers – especially these days:

Now a thing or two about absurdism. I wonder if it is not moving resolutely into our past. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in his famous Harvard keynote address said, ““Society appears to have little defense against the abyss of human decadence, such as, for example, misuse of liberty for moral violence against young people, such as motion pictures full of pornography, crime, and horror.” I’m not sure this is necessarily true, at least not anymore. I’m seeing a reawakening these days of the ancient human motivations of glory and duty and honor and the thrill of the fight against evil and a reconnecting with that which makes us human in the first place. In that way, “Forsaken World” belongs in our past, as a reminder of a time when things had no meaning before the theater fell away.

About Joel D. Hirst

Joel D. Hirst is a novelist and a playwright. His most recently released work is "Dreams of the Defeated: A Play in Two Acts" about a political prisoner in a dystopian regime. His novels include "I, Charles, From the Camps" about the life of a young man in the African camps and "Lords of Misrule" about the making and unmaking of a jihadist in the Sahara. "The Lieutenant of San Porfirio" and its sequel "The Burning of San Porfirio" are about the rise and fall of socialist Venezuela (with magic).
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