August 8, 2012
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, David Peace, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.
Katie Kitamura expertly melds the personal and political in one of the year's most unforgettable novels, Gone to the Forest. Kitamura builds her dark tale of both a family and colonial country on the brink of collapse with stark and precise prose.
Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:
"In this wondrous tale of both a family and a country’s dissolution, Kitamura brings readers into an unspecified time in an unnamed colonial country ... Kitamura, with spare, mesmerizing prose, paints a memorable vision of emotional chaos echoed by geologic and political turmoil."
Gone to the Forest is set in an imagined colonial country, which is a composite of multiple historical examples – in effect, a collage of colonialism. Elements of colonial Kenya, Argentina, India and Zimbabwe rub up against each other, sometimes in deliberately contradictory or incongruous ways.
With a few exceptions, the track list below contains music from colonial and post-colonial countries, from various periods and regions. Not all of the countries or histories referenced below appear in the book, but they're all somehow in the spirit of it. A few of these musicians had explicitly political agendas, and in some cases came up against the regimes they were critiquing in violent and unhappy ways.
Loet Prasomsap, "Khrai Cha Metta"
An irrepressibly cheery Thai pop song from the 1950s, with strong Hawaiian and American dance influences. It's nothing to do with colonialism, but the mash-up of influences – and the fact that a cover version was featured in the fantastic Thai film Tears of the Black Tiger, itself a play on several genres including American Westerns and Thai action films – made it impossible not to include.
Lord Kitchener, "London is the Place for Me"
The celebrated Trinidadian calypso singer Lord Kitchener emigrated to England from Jamaica on the Empire Windrush in 1948. During the passage to England, he wrote one of his most popular songs: ‘London is the Place for Me'. Another beloved song is ‘Cricket, Lovely Cricket', which celebrates the first West Indies cricket victory on English soil – over England, in a Test Match at Lord's, no less.
Carlos Gardel, "El dia que me quieras"
Although the characters and cultures of Gone to the Forest are drawn from multiple settings, the geographical location is very much taken from Argentina. Therefore, a song from Carlos Gardel, otherwise known as ‘The King of Tango'.
Enrico Caruso and Geraldine Farrar, "O Soave Fanciulla" (La Bohème)
This is the kind of thing I imagine the white colonials in the book might listen to. High Culture, with relevant capitalization, both gorgeous and sentimental. In a way, it represents the cognitive dissonance that takes place when so-called civilized people enact extreme violence over a landscape. The crackly quality of this recording is something I imagined as an overlay running through the book – the sound of something, once grand, rapidly falling away.
Fela Kuti, "Zombie"
From the great Fela Kuti's 1977 album Zombie. The song is a biting critique of the Nigerian military, whose actions Fela compares to ‘zombies' (‘Zombie no go go, unless you tell am to go / Zombie no go stop, unless you tell am to stop / Zombie no go turn, unless you tell am to turn / Zombie no go think, unless you tell am to think'). The album's release led to a government attack on Fela's commune, in which Fela's mother was killed. More relevant to the later parts of the novel.
Ros Sereysothea, "I'm Sixteen"
Cambodian singer Sereysothea began her career singing traditional Cambodian ballads for National Radio, and ended up one of a number of celebrated Cambodian garage rock musicians. Her voice sits high and clear against a heavy beat of drums and guitar, and the effect is haunting. Beautiful and famous, Sereyesothea was eventually forced to marry one of Pol Pot's assistants, and perform exclusively for the regime. Accounts of her death vary, but many believe she was executed by the Khmer Rouge following the fall of Phnom Penh at the age of 29.
McKinney's Cotton Pickers, "Do You Believe in Love at Sight"
To finish and to bring it home a bit, a tune from McKinney's Cotton Pickers, a 1920s jazz band from Detroit.
Katie Kitamura and Gone to the Forest links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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