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All is Forgotten, Nothing is Lost

3.64  ·  Rating details ·  985 ratings  ·  211 reviews
At the renowned writing school in Bonneville, every student is simultaneously terrified of and attracted to the charismatic and mysterious poet and professor Miranda Sturgis, whose high standards for art are both intimidating and inspiring. As two students, Roman and Bernard, strive to win her admiration, the lines between mentorship, friendship, and love are blurred.

Hardcover, 208 pages
Published September 27th 2010 by W. W. Norton Company
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Average rating 3.64  · 
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 ·  985 ratings  ·  211 reviews

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Jul 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015_sow
All is Forgotten, Nothing is Lost is not a book lost in a title's paradox. It is the opening salvo in a war of letters - a book that needed to be penned, asking the questions about what makes a writer write, can art be taught and what is the standard by which we call a written work good?

Yes, it may look like an oxymoron, this "All forgotten, nothing lost" - but that's looking at it from the perspective of human memory and not from the writing itself. Once committed to paper that memory becomes a
Aug 18, 2010 rated it really liked it
I had an interesting experience reading this book. In the beginning I had doubts, as it seemed to be set up as a modern romance, and I wasn't sure if there would be anything else to the story. But that was just part one. Even in the beginning, the way Chang uses words caught me off guard at times. Words are strung together in charming ways, and I found myself re-reading sentences and smiling. This is a story of people whose lives revolve around poetry, told in delicate prose.

As the story progres
Sep 21, 2019 added it
“…We were brought up on the poetry of human experience, and we turned to poets when we sought truth…Along with this education came respect for the poetic form. We understood that forms were pattern of human consciousness. Forms of beauty and restraint. Forms that freed our minds to reach toward the sublime.”
Roman lived in a shabby back apartment. To save money, he never left the light on for himself, and he had to feel his way up the outdoor stairs in order to keep from stepping between the w
Nov 02, 2010 rated it did not like it
Shelves: novels
This book really idealizes/sentimentalizes writing programs, almost to the point of being an advertisement. Everyone ends up as successful as they want to be, basically, and nothing interesting happens after the protagonist beds his ice-queen teacher. (He seduces her by screaming "O lovely Pussy!" below her window.)

The book is devoid of (intentional) humor and all the characters have slightly annoying weird names: Roman, Bernard, Miranda, Phebe. I kept wanting someone to eat a Hot Pocket or far
Audacia Ray
Sep 13, 2010 rated it did not like it
Shelves: fiction, read-in-2010

Characters are all over-privileged self-important douchebags with a heavy dose of misogyny thrown in for the main character. Story is supposed to be heavy and about love and betrayal, but I just didn't see it. Blech. Also: novels about writers? Over it.

I'm so done with fiction for a while now. Back to my regular diet of non-fiction!
Hannah Notess
Aug 17, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: writers-of-color
I confess I came to this book with high expectations and hoping to enjoy it. But I found it cheesy, hence the low rating. :-(

So, like, maybe in the alternate universe of Iowa, poets and poetry and grad school programs are like this. Not in my experience.

Instead, this book honestly came off as a bunch of cliches about the writing life, rehashed in symbolic character types - The Ambitious Careerist, The Thwarted Woman Writer, The Reclusive Genius Who Sacrifices All For Art.

Also, the main charact
Oct 11, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: dey-house
I admired the language, technique, and spare elegance of this book more than I enjoyed reading it. I think it's important that we have a different narrative of poetry (and how it's written) - one that isn't steeped in our cultural fascination with extreme personalities (Bukowski, Plath, etc). And yet... I found the characters to be underdeveloped somehow. Maybe just familiar academic types?: the difficult, elusive professor that everyone wants to impress, the blocked, self-absorbed wunderkind, t ...more
Sep 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Chang's writing is lucid and gorgeous, full of the small details of human interaction that make writers like William Maxwell and Flannery O'Connor so intriguing. The story centers on a poet named Roman who becomes absorbed in a passionate relationship with his writing instructor, Miranda, a woman whose exquisite boredom with life, love and writing makes her all the more alluring. The novel shifts between tones of satire and elegy. When we eavesdrop on the writing workshops, the conversations are ...more
Alison Hardtmann
Apr 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: my-library
This is a quiet throwback of a novel. Although it was published in 2010 and the story begins in 1986, it has the feel of something taking place a half century earlier. Although the main characters are very different, this reminded me of [Stoner], with its tight focus on one man's adulthood spent in academia.

Roman attends a prestigious MFA writing program in the midwest, where he attends a seminar led by a prominent poet, Miranda Sturgis. He doesn't participate in class and only turns in work be
Mar 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
A thoughtful, well-written, and slightly claustrophobic story that makes me wonder about the culture of graduate writing programs. Or maybe confirms that all poets aren't built to pursue poetry academically. ...more
Ericka Clou
I appreciated Chang's talent for telling a compelling story with very few characters. The characters have room to develop without interruption or filler. I also always enjoy peeks (fictionalized or otherwise) into the Iowa Writer's Workshop. Didn't hurt that the main characters subsequently moved to Nebraska where I live now. ...more
Oct 07, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
At one point in this novel, set at the renowned writing school in Bonneville, Miranda – the inscrutable and aloof poet and professor – assesses the poetry of her star student Roman in this way: “If you want me to be honest, you’re quite talented. There’s a great deal of power in your work. But there’s something hidden about the poems. They draw attention and give nothing back.”

By the end of All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost, I felt the same way about Lan Samantha Chang’s novel.

In many ways, it r
Dlmoore83 Moore
Sep 11, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry-and-prose
The cover led this book into my hands several times in the bookstore. Then a book club I belong to announced it as their September selection with a discussion with Lan Samantha Chang later in the month. Not wanting to be left behind, I quickly picked up my copy and began.

At first, it appeared to be a somewhat short, quick read. As i turned the first few pages, I soon realized it was much much more. Short in pages? maybe. Short on character, life commonalities and shared philosophical questions?
Sue Russell
Jan 18, 2011 rated it really liked it
What I liked most was the view inside the poet's mind and process, through Roman (who is also the supreme asshole) and indirectly (through the eyes of Roman and Bernard), Miranda, and what we can know without seeing the actual work. The atmospheric details were also great. How well I remember the haze of cigarette smoke over the workshop table and the subsequent retreat to "the bar." Of course it is very tempting to speculate about the possible real-life equivalents of these poet prototypes.

Joo Ok
Apr 19, 2011 rated it really liked it
Patrice, this review's for you. Reading books like this is always self-indulgent, because as a grad student I like to know that fictional others are suffering through very particular experiences I'm familiar with - sitting in seminar with grad students, the trepidation of visiting and holding office hours, the dull pressure of knowing that your work's never quite finished, the relief of always finding something beautiful to read. As boring as it sounds, for me it's the pleasure of recognition. I ...more
Jan 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
The top-shelf writing is worth the four stars all on its own. The language is beautiful and intelligent and the author writes with a controlled self-possession that makes me feel rather jealous.

It isn't a book peopled with lovable characters; it is largely about the sacrifices and discontents that accompany the decision to follow a calling. I particularly liked the foil of Bernard the martyr and Roman the egotist. Bernard is one of those characters that seems lifted from Dostoevsky; he's hopele
Jim Coughenour
Dec 30, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: bleakfiction
Chang set herself a delicate task in this short novel - to make us care considerably about the angst of a poet who, for all his alleged talent and commitment, is a shit. Her characters were all a bit too retentive for my tastes; their emotional lives are an abject series of abortions and amputations. But she definitely captures the cost of excellence for a genuine writer. "There could be no higher privilege and its price was sadness." She convinced me on that score. ...more
May 25, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2015-reads
Soggy, sentimental, overwrought tale of literary jealousy. There were some nice early scenes in a writers' workshop at a place called The School (but that sounds a lot like Chang's Iowa Writers' Workshop). After that it just dripped. (And [page 192]: if a batter hits a ball straight back at the pitcher and it strikes the pitcher "above the right wrist" then it won't result in a broken tibia. Oops.) ...more
Tracy Towley
This book raises a lot of questions: Is it possible to love a book in spite of the total uselessness of the protagonist? Is it possible to be totally enchanted by a story that so closely follows a man you can't stand? Generally, I'd so no, but specifically, when it comes to All is Forgotten, Nothing is Lost, it turns out that both are entirely possible.

Other questions the book touches on remain unanswered. Like, can creative writing be taught? It's an interesting question on its own, but especia
Nov 05, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: library-books, novels
Elegant, poignant, restrained. I have what I suspect is an obnoxious mild distaste for writers from writing programs - MFA or Iowa Writers Workshop, my mild distaste makes no distinction. It's not that I don't think writing is a craft, or that it can be taught, or that it's worthy of study. It's just that ... well, it seems from the outside like it's a conduit to the publishing industry, and I abhor networking and "connections." I guess my Platonic ideal of a writer is one who has all of the tal ...more
Lee Klein
Oct 10, 2010 rated it it was amazing
A long novella filled with radiant light, very serious poet men, and women whose hair often spools from its braids. The queer repetition (4x, at least) of the adjective "queer" either subtly or heavy-handedly (not sure which) suggested something about these two dudes -- maybe something about how, per Miranda, all memorable relationships in lit are unconventional? Some beautiful lines, resplendant in time and dying golden light, all of it trapped in amber and/or soap bubbles, etc. Definitely not ...more
Feb 12, 2011 rated it liked it
This was an absorbing read for me, completed in a couple of sittings. And more than anything else, I admired the prose. Maybe it's because I've been reading a lot of long cram-in-all-the-#$%ing-wonder-of-life sentence writers lately, but the spare elegantly-crafted lines came as a refreshing surprise. I really felt like I was disappearing into the text, and emerging only when each section was finished.

The story, on the other hand, seemed a touch too refined for my taste. I appreciated the subtl
Cheryl Gatling
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Jun 03, 2011 rated it it was ok
Definitely not the oomph I was hoping for from the Director of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, especially given the irony of her subject matter! I almost wonder if her 0 degrees of separation held her back in this regard. The emotional tenor of the book felt very forced, with too many of the characters' internal struggles spelled out in expository rather than active scenes. So intent she was to make the characters archetypical, the characters didn't feel 'real.'

The book is short, barely over 200 pa
Oct 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
"He understood now, viscerally, something he had only suspected as a child: that he was his family's aftermath." ...more
Sep 15, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.25 stars. Review to come.
Carl Lavigne
May 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
what a great book i cannot in good conscience recommend any aspiring writer read
Dec 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: i-own
Oh wow, this might be my favourite book of the year. I found this one when unpacking all the books that my parents boxed up and felt an attachment to it. Thoughtful, emotional and provocative.
Apr 01, 2022 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved this, but cant really explain why. It felt good for my brain. It was a character study book that I could get behind. I like the older academic vibe (of people who are older than undergrads). I will read more by Chang.
Apr 16, 2022 rated it really liked it
Please believe me. The people who matter the most to us in the end, who teach us the most, are the people who made their worst mistakes with us. (p.133)
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Lan Samantha Chang was born in Appleton, Wisconsin and attended college at Yale where she earned her bachelor's degree in East Asian Studies. She worked in publishing in New York City briefly before getting her MPA from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and was a Wallace E. Stegner Fellow in Fiction at Stanford. She is currently ...more

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