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Book Reviews   |    
All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost

All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost
by by Lan Samantha Chang. ; New York, W. W. Norton, 2010, 208 pages, $23.95

Reviewed by Allan E. Crandell, M.D.
Psychiatric Services 2011; doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.000621519
View Author and Article Information

The reviewer reports no competing interests.

Dr. Crandell is a staff psychiatrist, Four Corners Regional Health Center, Teec Nos Pos, Arizona.

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The title All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost is such an apt metaphor for psychotherapy. Readers of Psychiatric Services will have much to savor in Lan Samantha Chang's slim, tightly crafted novel about English graduate students and their relationships. Chang, a Guggenheim fellow and director of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, renders a riveting portrait of one Miranda Sturgis, who is foreboding, patrician, withholding, and yet highly sought after as a poet and faculty member, and her brilliant graduate student Roman Morris. Chang, who has also written the highly acclaimed novels Hunger and Inheritance, offers a narrative about not only what happens when a student and professor transgress boundaries but also the aftermath when that illicit liaison is denied.

For us, of course, the question becomes how a novel might appeal to practicing clinicians. The story starts in 1986, and certainly power relationships and boundary violations between mentors and teachers have been questioned thoroughly since then via our latter-day scrutiny, but the novel serves to offer clinicians an extended allegorical commentary on relationships between clients and therapists, and between patients and psychiatrists.

It is perhaps by Chang's design that the protagonist's name “Roman” hearkens back to the literary term “Bildungsroman,” a prototypical coming-of-age narrative. Implicit in this kind of narrative is that the protagonist experiences character change as a result of his coming of age, but the summation of whether Roman successfully traverses this developmental leap is withheld until the final pages. It is all the more bitter for him as he realizes that his friend Bertrand, who worked in a garret in New York City, poor and unrecognized, has nonetheless produced a long poem and body of work unrivaled by Roman's career and poetry. Chang explores Roman's ruminations about how he has abandoned his friend, misled his wife, and failed to achieve closure in his relationship with his mentor, Miranda Sturgis, and whether these realizations prove ultimately too few, too insubstantial, and too late to reveal any true character development.

Chang presents us with a carefully scripted novel of yearning and wish fulfillment and deeply penetrating loss for all four principal characters, although best seen through Roman's character as he relates to his wife, his friend, and his mentor and finds that his professional accomplishments, albeit noteworthy, may not be substantial enough to offset these losses. He seeks shelter and validation in his mentor, fails to appreciate that his wife offers both, and struggles with whether he can offer either to his colleague until perhaps it is too late to do so. The author has given us a small, polished gem of a novel graced by the leitmotifs of what is disclosed, what is offered up, and what is cloaked and hidden by her characters.

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