A novel about the possibilities communal living and the importance of small-scale resistance
Two communes — one in Central France in the 1920s and the other in the Netherlands today. Despite the century between them, the ideals on which they were founded and the obstacles they face are not substantially different. In both cases, the individual members struggle to submit themselves to the collective.
We experience the first half of the book through the eyes of Sophie Kaïzowski, who founded a commune with her husband and three other anarchists near the village of Luynes, France. The basic principles are veganism, equality between men and women and nudism—the latter of which leads to sunburns in the summer and freezing in the winter.
In her diary, Sophie describes the members’ many political and philosophical discussions, their work on the land and the relationships that developed among them. Gradually, however, the pressure mounts: the harvest does not yield enough, people are hungry, and arguments break out. Sophie is also torn by her love for one of the other married residents, Clémence. The commune’s manifesto speaks of ‘the promotion of the coexistence of humans and nature and peace in general’. Sophie’s diary ends with a scene in which one anarchist knocks out another.
Almost 100 years later, political philosophy student Sam is so inspired by Sophie’s diary that she and her partner and another couple decide to leave the city to live self-sufficiently in the countryside. Like their predecessors, they enjoy an idyllic start, but soon frictions arise. Personal interests collide, for example in Sam’s open relationship with her girlfriend Jona. Sam finds it increasingly difficult to accept Jona’s promiscuous behaviour, and in the end, she is left alone on the farm.
When all seems lost, and the municipality is even threatening to cut down the nearby forest, Sam rediscovers her fighting spirit. With the help of her friends, ex-lover, fellow villagers and social media, she launches into action. The forest seems saved, at least for the time being.
Forward is an honest novel about the human quest for freedom and equality and our desire to be part of a greater whole. Without cynicism, Meijer describes how hard it is to put ideals into practice, though every attempt to do so is valuable — perhaps not in the moment itself but for future generations. Forward is urgent, inspiring and moving.