Reviewed by B F Jones
Writer: Kiran Bhat
Publisher: Iguana Books
Release date: 2020
Kiran Bhat is an interesting author, a world traveller and polyglot, the author of many books in various languages. we of the forsaken world… is his latest novel, which is comprised of 16 different stories that can be read as a whole, or individually.
Prior to letting readers jump into his stories, Bhat provides an extensive foreword in which he lays the purpose of his book clearly, which he is using as a vessel to generate collective consciousness about the current state of the world: “If we were to think of ourselves as part of a greater Earth collective, I am sure we would spend more time caring about the suffering of others, eliminate a lot of the excess and unnecessary consumerism that causes environmental catastrophes, and act for the sake of each other, act in the context of One.”
With his purpose thoroughly explained, Bhat moves on to providing background and detail about the imaginary world and places he is depicting, insisting that, though they are made up, they are inspired by existing places and there are “resonances with the populations of many different parts of the world where whole groups of people are living full lives. This fictional world is designed to evoke those lives and pull those people out of obscurity in a way that honours the fullness of their being. By rendering fictional worlds of my imagination, I also wanted to make it clear that I did not want to speak for anyone who wasn’t myself.”
Bhat obviously spent a long time working on the setting of the story, and like many authors inviting readers to imaginary lands, the prologue plays an essential role in informing the reader of the setting, offering them indications and visual support, in order for the reader to not be lost.
Although the foreword comes from a place of helpfulness and Bhat’s indications on how to address his story, he also, inadvertently, removes the element of spontaneity, as well as hinders the reader’s freedom to their own reaction and interpretation of his work.
Bhat is keen on setting a story (or group of stories) in which various parts of the world are described and in various stages of evolution and industrialisation. This explains the split across four different settings in which 16 characters roam. The author then zooms in and out of those places and on the different characters who in turn become the protagonist of a different scenario. He treats the reader to a mosaic of extremely well written and meaningful stories in which he highlights and denounces the beauty and flaws of the world and its inhabitants.
Though the places he describes are very different one from another (jungle, tourist town, shanty village, large metropole), they find their unity in their heart-breaking destruction and communication breakdowns. Bhat uses them as a metaphor to denunciate the current state of our world on the brink of an environmental catastrophe, to focus on the world’s inequalities, and the desire for unity he addresses in the foreword. he depicts broken worlds close to extinction, the subtext alerting the reader to the themes of climate emergency and war, engaging them to think, to analyse.
The book’s complex setting is certainly one that is demanding engagement from the reader, and if his prose flows (and it does, beautifully) the jump from a place to another, one character to another, and change from prose to verse can occasionally be jarring. Bhat makes up for this slight lack of narrative arch with a thematic one, with the same topics running throughout the entire book.
If the themes are well exploited, Bhat’s characters seem to be ever so slightly distanced. All of them speak in the first person, but as protagonists, they seem to float above the situations, as if there were more a witness rather than the main character. None of them have a name which increases this distance between reader and protagonist, and can bring confusion.
Bhat’s purpose seems to be to send a universal message across to all readers. And this message is one of empathy, showing a desire to make the world a better place and to save the planet before it is too late.
A complex, thoughtful and thorough read, beautifully written.
You can buy your copy of we of the forsaken world… here.
Kiran Bhat is a global citizen formed in a suburb of Atlanta, Georgia, to parents from Southern Karnataka, in India. He has currently traveled to over 130 countries, lived in 18 different places, and speaks 12 languages. He is primarily known as the author of we of the forsaken world... (Iguana Books, 2020), but he has authored books in four foreign languages, and has had his writing published in The Kenyon Review, The Brooklyn Rail, The Colorado Review, Eclectica, 3AM Magazine, The Radical Art Review, The Chakkar, Mascara Literary Review, and several other places. His list of homes is vast, but his heart and spirit always remains in Mumbai, somehow. He currently lives in Melbourne. You can find him on Twitter @WeltgeistKiran.
B F Jones is French and lives in the UK. She has flash fiction and poetry in various UK and US online magazines. Her flash collection, Panic Attack and poetry chapbook, Last Orders, will both be published by Close To The Bone late 2021.