All is Forgotten, Nothing is Lost by Lan Samantha Chang is a novel about two poets trying to survive and make it during grad school and after. Their instructor, Miranda, is seen as a cold and exacting professor who is impenetrable. Roman comes to her for help on his poetry, which then blossoms into an affair, and leads to him winning a prestigious prize. Bernard is also in love with her, but tames himself as he struggles to write his one long poem. After grad school, Roman and Lucy, another student of Miranda’s, get married and have a child. They raise him while Roman teaches composition at a university. Throughout all this time, Roman is continuously questioning his ability as a poet, wondering whether it was Miranda’s love for him that made him win, or if his work was truly groundbreaking. Over a decade later, Lucy and Roman welcome Bernard into their home because he has nowhere else to stay. This is where, among other things, Roman reads Bernard’s manuscript and is envious of how great it is, Bernard reads Roman’s manuscript and doesn’t like it, and Roman and Lucy have a falling out. Lucy and Roman then divorce following Bernard leaving their home, Roman receives the Pulitzer for the poetry manuscript Bernard didn’t like, and their son, whose goal was to play in the major leagues, loses that chance after an injury. At the end, Bernard is dying of lung cancer, and Roman returns to talk with him about Miranda and their friendship during college.
This novel is acute with its internality of Roman and Bernard, and I was enraptured with the way Chang describes their longing. The characters continually question their self-worth, and in the end, the reader is left believing that Roman sees Bernard as the better poet. It’s a heartbreaking, but precise look at how life unravels for two writers after they meet.
Final Rating: 4/5
Maxwell Suzuki is a writer, poet, and photographer based in Los Angeles.